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The Fat Feast April 1, 2018

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Isaiah 25:6-9

Easter Sunday

April 1, 2018

 

Focus:  God swallows up death forever.

Function:  That the hearers be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Fat Feast

 

The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the words of the Lord, spoken to His creation by His prophet Isaiah, the 24th chapter.  The party is over.  The creation is broken, the fruits of the world downtrodden, and its inhabitants ashamed, standing condemned by their own guilt.

The party’s over.  There’s no more gladness, no more rejoicing, no more instruments.  No longer do the people drink wine and burst out into song.

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah’s prophecy are apocalyptic.  They’re about the end, about our own self-destruction and self-absorption, but also about God’s response to our despair.  Because in our text today in chapter 25, we learn that the party is far from over.  In fact, the party has really only just begun!  We’ve seen the judgment, now we get to see the restoration!

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Talk about a promise!  A feast, but not just any feast.  This isn’t Golden Corral or Pizza Street.  The words used by Isaiah are the choicest of foods, the best of wines.  Literally, the best money could buy.  Here’s an endless feast of the perfect cut of meat.  An endless feast where the barrels of perfectly aged wine are bottomless.

And it’s for you!  That’s the best part of the promise: it includes you.  The promise is for ALL people.  It’s a gift, given for us.  And it happens right here.  On THIS mountain.  Isaiah is referring to Mt. Zion, to the city of Jerusalem, to the city on a hill.

 

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

 

Notice again, those same words twice more.  ALL peoples, ALL nations, and THIS mountain.  Regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from.  This promise is for you.  It is again, right here, in Jerusalem, the promise going out to God’s people.

That phrase, to swallow up, in Hebrew is the word “Belah” ([lb).  And every time it’s used, every time something is “swallowed up,” it’s always an act of judgment.  And so here, that judgment is not on us.  That judgment is on what afflicts us.

God will swallow up the covering, the veil that is upon us.  Remember those years where your favorite sports team was just plain awful.  You go to the game, with your brown sack in hand.  You’ve cut out the eyes and the mouth, and you sit there in the stands, with this bag over your head.  You’re ashamed; your team is a disgrace.  And yet there you are.

This veil and covering is our shame.  And it goes far beyond a paper bag and a losing record.  You have guilts that cling to you.  You have those times in your life that you can’t undo.  Things you’ve said that you can never take back.  Harm that you’ve done to someone you care about that you can never reverse.  Things you’ve seen and heard, things you’ve done that you’ll never be able to put out of your mind.

Satan accuses.  Our sinful nature accuses.  It takes our sins and turns them into guilt and uses them mocks us.  “You’ll never be good enough.”  “No one could possibly love you.”  “You’re hopeless.”

This promise is for you.  That God Himself will swallow up your guilt, your shame, your despair.  God Himself will swallow up your sin!

 

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

 

The repetition in these verses is like gold.  Yahweh is going to swallow up our enemies, the veil, the shame from upon us.  God Himself is going to swallow up even death itself!

The people of Israel that Isaiah wrote this book for, they lived in the Promised Land of God, a land that He took from the Canaanites and gave to His own people.  These Canaanites worshiped a false god, Baal.  And in their mythology, there is an ongoing battle between Baal and Mot, or death.  When the spring comes, Baal crushes Mot, and life begins again.  But every fall, Mot swallows up Baal, and death falls on the land.  In much of the ancient artwork, Mot is even pictured as a large and grotesque beast with an even larger mouth just waiting to swallow up life.

But for us, for the people of God, this stands in contrast.  This promise is not dependent on the seasons.  It doesn’t come and go.  No!  God will swallow up death forever!  It’s the main course on His dinner plate! He will wipe away tears from ALL faces.  He will take our shame, our despair, our reproach away from us, away from ALL people.

And He doesn’t simply cast them aside.  They aren’t merely removed from you temporarily only to harm you again later.  The veil of our shame and our guilt, the veil of our sin and our death is taken on by our Savior.  He carries it for us.  And by carrying it to the cross, He has swallowed it up forever!

Isaiah doesn’t mince words.  He’s intentional; he’s deliberate.  And He only uses this phrase “For Yahweh has spoken,” three times in the book.  And each time, it’s a statement of finality.  It is finished.  That is, God’s Word always accomplishes that for which He sent it.

This promise isn’t based on you or what you do.  We don’t trust in this promise because we can see it, or taste it, or find it, or predict it.  We trust in this promise because He said it.  Look back through the text thus far.  Yahweh is the doer of the verbs.  Not you, not me, not Isaiah.  God has done it.  We bring our sin, and God swallows it up.

 

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

 

Remember from before, we’re living in chapter 24.  We’re living in the midst of our brokenness, our sin, and our shame.  We’re living in a place where there is no singing, nor wine, nor joy.  But in spite of this, God tells us what to say.

On this swallowing day, God gives us the words to speak.  We may live in the midst of despair now, we may not yet be at the feast of God that never ends, but God gives us the glimpse.  These are the words that we’ll be singing at the promised feast.  And we can start practicing right now.

In fact, that’s what you’re doing.  That’s why you’re here.  It’s called Christian worship.  You have come to foretaste the feast.  You have come for a glimpse of the promise that is yet to come.  As Pastor Otto stood before you this morning, you heard the forgiveness of sins!  They were swallowed up by God Himself.  The Absolution is a foretaste of God’s final verdict for you: My beloved child!  As you come up here in just a few moments, you are partaking of a glimpse of the feast that is to come.  You are feasting on the body and blood of God Himself, poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins.   Your guilt is swallowed up in Him.  It’s a foretaste of the final wedding feast of the Lord that has no end!  For Yahweh has spoken.

The Hebrew word in this verse for “waiting” isn’t what we typically think of.  The word Cavah (hwq) means to wait for something you know is going to happen.  It’s not an anxious worrying, it’s not chewing on your nails waiting to hear from your doctor the results of the recent tests.  This is much more like waiting for the sun to rise in the morning, or waiting for the spring and for warm weather again.  You KNOW these things will happen.  We wait for our Savior because we KNOW that He will save us.  We wait for Yahweh, because this promise is for you.

The last word of our text this morning should never be forgotten.  Salvation.  Every time this word is used in the Old Testament it is announcing the power God has over His enemies.  The Hebrew word here is Yeshua ([wvy). Salvation. We wait in gladness, we wait and rejoice in His Salvation.  In His Yeshua.  It’s the Hebrew name Joshua in English.  And in Greek, it’s the name Jesus.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Our Lord and our Salvation.

It is on THIS mountain that Jesus has swallowed up all enemies.  It is on THIS mountain, that Jesus Christ swallowed up your sins and your despair and your grief by bleeding and dying upon the cross.  It is upon THIS mountain that Jesus Christ swallowed up even death itself by bursting forth from the tomb on Easter morning.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (He is Risen Indeed!) ALLELUIA!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has feasted on our enemies by swallowing up the veil of shame, the cover of sin, the reproach of guilt, and the tears of death.  And so we gather in His house this day to celebrate this very thing: God has swallowed up death forever.  We gather in His house this day to celebrate an empty tomb, that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, giving us life that never ends. Jesus feasted so that we would feast forevermore.

This promise is for you because Yahweh has spoken.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Amen.

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Leave it All Behind January 21, 2018

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Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3

January 21, 2018

 

Focus:  God calls us to leave everything behind as He delivers us in Christ.

Function:  That the hearers build their worldstory based on the Scriptures of Christ.

Structure:  .

 

Leave it All Behind

 

Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?  That’s what we see of the disciples mentioned in our gospel reading together today.  Simon and Andrew are casting nets.  They’re fishermen, it’s what they’ve been trained to do, it’s all they know.  And Jesus, simply walking by, calls out to them to leave the nets behind and follow Him.  And they do.  Could you do it?

Then we see a pair of brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  They were together with their father fixing the family boat.  They, too, were fishermen.  Zebedee was wealthy enough that he owned the business, even had some hired hands.  This was their life.  Fishing.  And we know all about the idea of an inheritance.  This is it.  Their life, their business, their family.  Everything they know.  And at Jesus’ simple call, they leave behind everything they know, including their own father, and they follow Christ.  Could you do it?

The Scriptures are full of examples.  Think of Abraham in the Old Testament, and how absurd his call was.  Think of the Apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus, what he was traveling to do.  Giving up everything they knew, leaving behind everything they would have found comfortable.  Could you do it?

Could you leave behind the years of training that you’ve received?  The way you’ve been raised, the way you’ve been taught to look at world around you, to process the daily events of life, and incorporate them into your worldstory.  It’s taken decades to build you.  Could you do it?

This is the call of Christ.  This is the call of the gospel.  That we would leave behind our worldly desires and follow Him.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

This is what makes evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus, so difficult.  It usually isn’t heard as a free gift.  We are so overwhelmed with stuff that we have the phrase, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  A gift, what’s the catch?

But with this gift comes change.  Painful change.  Tearing down the things that you once loved, the things that once occupied the place of God in your life.  Our idols have to go.  For the rich young ruler, that was his wealth, and he couldn’t do it.  For the Pharisees, it was their pride, and most of them couldn’t do it.

And so as we reach out to the community around us here in an American context, just what is it that we’re asking them to give up?  You can feel free to challenge me on this if you’d like, but after closely observing our culture these last few years, the average American citizen sees the primary goal of life as happiness.  That’s their worldstory.

As they process the news, “how does this make me feel?”  As they think about their future, “what do I want to do so that I’m happy?”  As they process the little moments of their day, “can I put a smiley emoji when I text my friend about it?”  If it makes them happy, they go for it.  If it causes pain or discomfort or sadness, they avoid it at all costs.

So when everything becomes about self-fulfillment, we can see why American culture hates the message of Christ.  “Who are you to tell me I’m wrong?  Who are you to say that I can’t do whatever I want to do?”  Christ’s simple message, “Repent and believe the gospel,” is calling for them to die to self.  To give up their idols for salvation that comes through Christ alone.

Pastor Otto preached last week on our need to hear the voice of God, the authoritative Word of God.  To continue to build upon that teaching, the Scriptures teach that our entire worldstory is to be built by the Word of God.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  How do I process everything going on around me?  What should I value?  Who should I listen to?  The Scriptures are our foundation as followers of Christ.

This stands against the world’s idea that life exists apart from theology. Life is over here (raise one hand), and theology is separate (raise other hand).  This is extremely evident as we see several Christian cases, First Amendment cases, go through the nation’s courts.  The argument is that you’re fine to worship however you want.  As long as it stays over there (raise “Theology” hand again).  You can’t bring it with you when you re-enter life.  But this is simply false.  The teachings of Christ in His Word, the gifts of Christ given to us, inform everything we do.  They color the way we live life in the face of suffering and death.

Earlier I asked you again and again, “Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?”  But it’s not your work.  It’s not something we are capable of doing.  The only thing we can do is fight back.  Scratch and claw and growl as we cling to our idols, to all the false stories and information that built our worldstory through the years.

Yes, foreign worldstories still cling to you.  We still would rather be happy than suffer.  We often identify first as American, and then as a Christian.  Right along with the rest of culture, we want to believe that we’re basically good, when in reality, we’re evil through and through, and any good in us is the work of God.  We struggle to overcome worldly views on everything: life, death, marriage, work, money, goals, learning, education, progress, government, individuality, success, believing in ourselves.  The list seems endless.

Satan tempted Jesus in this manner, also.  And not just in the wilderness, but even in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knows He’s been betrayed, He knows His arrest is coming.  He knows the next twenty hours will bring immense amounts of pain, suffering, bloodshed, and scorn.  And so He prays.  And He prays.  And He prays.

36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)  Christ submitted Himself to God the Father, and to His will.  He was arrested, tried by night, flogged, beaten, mocked, tortured, and then forced to drag His own cross to the top of the hill where men would drive nails through His flesh into the wood.  And then they hoisted Him up, to humiliate Him before the world, and to slowly, but surely, suffocate Him to death.

Christ’s sacrifice, of His own self, of His very life, won for us salvation.  His blood shed there upon the cross is the atoning sacrifice for all of our sins.  His blood covers us.  And then, on the third day, He rose again, declaring to the entire creation that death is defeated, that the devil is done, and that the wretchedness of sin, and all its ways, are being put to an end.

These gifts are ours.  Through baptism, you have been buried into Christ’s death.  The Old Adam, the old sinful nature, drowned there in that water, by His Word.  But more than that!  Not only are you united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, we know and can trust that we, too, will be raised to new life.

This is what prompted the Apostle Paul to write:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

As the people of God today, He calls us by His voice, through His own authoritative Word.  He invites us to build our lives, our minds, our very selves around Him.  He calls us out of our own worldstory, into His worldstory.

And in His worldstory, when we struggle, when we fail, when we fall, when we scratch and claw to hold onto our worldstory and our old worldly ways, Christ is ever present.  That in His Word, and in His Sacraments, indeed in His house, you continue to receive the forgiveness of sins in the fellowship of this altar.

This is our life, in Christ.  And it takes more than a lifetime.  Yes, we teach our children the Word of God.  We teach them to think and to process life through the lens of Scripture.  We constantly take ourselves back into His Word in order to put off the old self, the old worldstory, and to put on the new self, His worldstory.  And on the Last Day, when Christ returns, all other worldstories will pass away.  And we will live with Him, the Creator of heaven and earth, we will live with Him forever.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Clear the path December 4, 2016

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Matthew 3:1-12

Second Sunday in Advent

December 4th, 2016

 

Focus:  God sends His people to clear a path that others may see Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers clear the path for the gospel.

Structure:  .

 

Clear the Path

 

All summer long, and even this fall, if you wanted to get to Rochester, you had to be patient.  Construction crews had the roads all torn up to the point where Rochester’s official mascot might as well’ve been the orange traffic cone.  And if that was part of your work commute, I’m sorry.  But over those months, they built new roads, new bridges, reinforced old ones.  The trip to get to Rochester is now easier and safer than ever before.  The hard work of those crews paved the way for you to get into their city.

The Winterfest parade here in town doesn’t quite live up to the Fourth of July.  So even though that was just yesterday, think of any parade you’ve been at before.  The roads get blocked off, chairs are lining the streets.  People are preparing to see the procession.  And of course, when the parade begins, where are the children?  Up front.  Right, they’re right up front.  There’s no point to them sitting in the back, they can’t see anything.  They’ll get bored, antsy, frustrated, and distracted.  And they become a distraction.  So they go to the front, where they can see and hear everything.

And even though Pastor Fritsch and I don’t throw out candy during the service, the same thing really applies to church.  Kids behave better, pay attention better, hear God’s Word better, up front, where they can see.  There aren’t a bunch of heads blocking the way.

You’re all good at this, making things visible.  Next weekend we have the Wee Care Christmas programs.  And this place will be packed.  And you help.  You actively help to arrange chairs and risers and other things.  But even as we remodeled this space for worshipping God, you kept people’s ability to see in mind.

Even though it proved unfeasible to rip out these pillars, you saw fit to ramp up our tech, to put in a great camera system that broadcasts the service onto those side screens.  So when those green chairs and folding chairs are filled with relatives next weekend, they can see the kids singing and it makes hearing the good news of the gospel all the easier for them, because the way has been made clear.

In many ways, this was John the Baptist’s task, his calling.  As God’s prophet, he had a very specific call to fulfill. “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”  Those words were waiting for John, for over six hundred years.  This was how God saw fit to prepare the way, to put up construction cones, to clear a path.

John didn’t get any dynamite to work with, aside a potent proclamation.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  I’ve always thought it was pretty cool that the sermon John preached to the people is the same exact sermon that Jesus begins His ministry with.  In Matthew 4:17, it’s word for word.  The same exact message.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the proclamation which God gave to John to clear the path.  To obliterate the obstacles in people’s lives so that they could see the Christ.  John was sent to take away any roadblocks that would stop people, physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever it may have been.  Prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.

And his message does exactly that.  Repent, turn away from your sins.  It’s the law.  And John, as a prophet, comes equipped with the full force of the law, able to point people to what sins are burdening them that they aren’t even aware of.  Or in the case of the Pharisees and other leaders, challenging their pride.  Cast these things off, repent.  Turn away from your sins and turn to God.

And the message also included the timing.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It’s here.  The inbreaking of God into our midst, the inbreaking of God into the brokenness of our lives and our government is here.  You don’t have to wait anymore.  The Christ has come.  Life will never be the same.

John spoke on behalf of the Lord and the people listened.  “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

John did his job, with the Spirit’s help no doubt.  But people from all over the world were coming to John, hearing his message, confessing their sins, and being baptized.  John was clearing a path for people to be ready to see and hear Jesus.  That when He comes, they’d be’d dying to hear the good news of the gospel.  Of salvation by grace alone.  And to be baptized into His kingdom which knows no end.

In some ways, this is what we do.  You haven’t been called by God to be prophets.  You haven’t been called by God to baptize.  But you are called by God to prepare the way, just as it was said in John and Jesus’ preaching.

That’s the point of Advent, that we prepare for His coming.  That we repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  And so we do.  We gather together, as His people, His children the church.  We enjoy some fellowship over freshly cooked meals.  Then we gather here, in this holy space, set apart for the preaching of the Word.  For the preaching of both law and gospel.  That you’re sinners, in need of repenting, confessing your sins before the Lord.  And so you do, you already have.  And then He speaks to you His good news. He speaks to you His forgiveness.

There’s not much of a point to a worship service without the means of grace.  If you come here, and the forgiveness of sins isn’t here, we’re doing something wrong.  Through confession and absolution, through baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper, your confession of sins is heard and your sins are absolved, they’re removed from you.  They’re forgiven.  And there’s nothing better than that in the whole world.  That Christ died on the cross in our place.  That’s why you pay for this building.  That’s why you call and pay your pastors, which you do generously!  Without forgiveness, there’s nothing here.

Parents probably have the easiest task of clearing a path.  And I don’t say this to belittle parenting.  Not at all.  It’s a challenge, and a blessing.  I say the path is easier for parents because our children, when God gifts them to us, are blank slates.  Yes, sinners, by all accounts.  But they have no worldview.  They don’t know what to think, how to live, who to trust.  As parents, we get to build their worldview.

And so Advent is a parental reminder, clear the path for your children to see Jesus.  What’s this look like?  Well, this is where gets tougher.  We actually have to look at what we’re teaching our kids, at what we’re telling them matters, and we might have to change things.  We might have to clear a path through some self-erected obstacled.

I shared an interview from the Issues, Etc. radio program this week on Facebook, with Pastor Hans Fiene.  In that interview, he breaks down how we’ve made sports an idol.  I encourage you to go and listen to it.  If you don’t Facebook or can’t find me, that’s okay, just Google “Issues Etc.” and it will be one of the first archived shows on their site.

It’s worth your time, even if you don’t have kids, or never will.  Because the point can be expanded.  With sports and children, the problem now is more than just that teams and leagues and coaches insist on Sunday morning practices, games, and tournaments.  The problem is deeper than Wednesday night commitments that keep our kids out of Confirmation.  The problem is that those things get chosen over hearing the Word of God, over receiving His gifts of life and forgiveness in a place that He has set apart for you.

Children don’t fall for the old “do as I say, not as I do.”  They learn from this that it’s okay to do something else.  God can take the backseat, He’ll be okay with it.  And “just this once” has an awful bad habit of becoming regular routine.  And like I was saying, it’s not just sports.  What in your life takes your eyes off the cross?  What hinders you from devotions at home, from being in His Word?  What prevents you from coming to His altar and drinking His blood, shed for you?  Whatever these things might be, clear the path.  Don’t take on the commitment that strips you from this community.  Say no to the traveling league. Say no to the camping trip.  Say no to the promotion that gives you bad hours.

That’s the challenge of clearing the path for parents.  Sometimes we have idols that have to be torn down, cleared, so that our kids can see Christ.

But the challenge is still for all of us to clear the path for our neighbor.  And this one’s tougher.  This one’s tougher because your neighbor already has a worldview.  They already have commitments. They already have mentors and role models.  They already have an entire framework for how they’ve come to be them that doesn’t understand that they were created by God intentionally.

It’s hard to overcome the worldviews of our culture.  But in this way, we’re like John.  We’re tasked with giving the Word a hearing.  With building a relationship with our neighbor through which we can tell them of God, of His creation, of our sins, and of forgiveness in the cross of Christ.

In that too, we have idols.  Idols of comfort, of tolerance, of freedom, things that we must again clear to share the Word.  We don’t want to risk losing our friends, but what kind of friend are we if we don’t care if they’re forgiven?

Now don’t hear what I’m not saying.  You’re not responsible for their worldview.  You’re not responsible for whether or not they actually hear the Word of God.  John the Baptist wasn’t called to hammer home the Word over and over again until the people finally listened.  He was simply called to share it.

He acknowledged his limitations.  He didn’t even see himself as worthy to untie and carry the filthy, bloodied sandals of Jesus.  And he’s right.  And neither are we.  We can’t save ourselves, so we certainly can’t save others. That job belongs to God alone.

And He has done it.  The same Spirit who created life in you from the dirt has brought you to the font to be baptized, to create a new life in you.  The same Lord who knew you before you even existed, willingly laid down His life on the cross to claim your sins as His own.  The same God who could make the rocks proclaim Christ, chooses to work through us, as His children, as His family.  The same God who watched as we corrupted the creation He entrusted to us, continues to entrust it to us.

So we are called to put on our hard hats and clear some paths in our own life, in our family, and with our neighbors.  But even in hearing that, those words of Advent preparation, we still rejoice.  We rejoice in the work of John the Baptist, clearing the path for so many to see Jesus’ ministry on this earth.  We rejoice in the work of all those since Jesus’ ministry who have continued to clear paths that we too have seen our risen King.  And most of all, we rejoice in our Lord and Savior, who loves us so much that He willing surrendered His own life, to save us from the unquenchable fire.

Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More October 16, 2016

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Luke 18:1-8

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

October 16, 2016

 

Focus:  God answers our cries for justice by the sacrifice of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers pray for justice in the cross of Christ.

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

 

Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More

 

Had Jesus preached this parable today, it would have sounded a little more like this:

“In a certain store, there was a woman who neither feared God nor men.  And there was a child in that store, her child, who kept crying and screaming, ‘Mommy, I want it and I want it now!’  For a while, she refused, but afterward she thought to herself, ‘Though I don’t fear God and I certainly don’t need a man, yet because this child keeps bothering me, I will give him what he wants, so that my stress level doesn’t cause me to go nuclear.’  Hear what the unrighteous woman says.”

Whether you want to call it the Parable of the Persistent Widow, or the Parable of the Unjust Judge, that opening illustration is the common interpretation of the parable.  Jesus’ instructions to His disciples then, and to us now, is as simple as this: pray, pray, and pray some more.  Ask God for whatever you want, and if at first you don’t receive it, just keep asking.

But this runs into so many problems.  Just think about it, if this is how prayer works, right away, what’s the first thing you’re going to ask God for?  Almost without a doubt, our first prayers will be selfish.  They’ll be about us.  More specifically, they’ll be about stuff.  “God, I’d really love a bigger house, can you handle that?”  “Where’s that Ferrari you promised me?”  “Can I have a good looking spouse?”  “God, can you get my children to behave better?”  “I’d really like that new job”  “Can I have that promotion now?” And you haven’t gotten it yet, just keep praying, and eventually you will.

And some of these things can actually be worthwhile things to want, like the couple who prays for years for a child, the husband and wife praying for a better marriage, or prayer for a better relationship with your boss.  So, I hate to make to make it sound so trivial and childish, but I have to, because it causes a bigger problem.

The biggest issue with this interpretation of the parable is what happens when you don’t get your way.  When all that praying for more wealth doesn’t happen, first for a few days, then days become weeks, and weeks become months.  How long can you hold on to this promise of Jesus?  Maybe if you’re faith is strong enough, you can even last for years.  But how long does it take before you eventually lose hope?  Over time, your faith widdles away until it dies.

When we misunderstand the promises of Jesus, when we think He promised us something He never did, the death of our faith is a great concern.  Faith is trust in God and His promises.  If we can’t trust them anymore, we literally don’t have faith in Him anymore.

And had the parable ended at the end of verse six, with Jesus saying, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says,” had it ended there, we could easily, understandably get the wrong promise from it.

But the truth is, thankfully, Jesus never would have preached the whiny, selfish child illustration.  It doesn’t fit with what He was actually teaching His disciples.  Because He didn’t stop at verse 6.

The very key to this parable actually comes before Jesus even starts talking.  In verse 1, Luke tells us that the effect Jesus desires from this parable is that His disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  Pray continuously, never give up hope.  That’s the key.  Without it, we just think about the covetousness of our own broken hearts.

But instead, this never giving up hope shows up in the widow’s asking.  Despite the faithlessness of this judge, despite his unwillingness to even really give her a fair hearing, she keeps going to him.  She knows he has the power to give her justice, to save her from her adversary.  And that becomes the point.  Her prayer isn’t for stuff, it’s for justice, it’s for salvation.

And, as the parable concludes, ultimately, she gets it.  The judge concedes, finally listens, and gives her justice against her adversary.  We do want to be careful examining who’s who in this parable.  God is the judge, so we don’t want to read too much into the unfaithful label of the parable, because we know better.  Even though sometimes it may seem like God doesn’t care, like He’s being unfaithful to us, He is always faithful, He always loves us.

That makes us the widow.  The one crying out.  And as we’ve established, it’s not for stuff, or relationships, or whatever might be on our hearts, as faithful and good as many of those things may be.  Instead, we cry out for justice.  We pray to God to grant us justice against our adversaries.  We ask God to judge between us and sin, death, and the devil.

And as we keep reading the text, we see that’s exactly what God does.  God gives justice to His elect, to those who call out to Him for salvation.  This is the power of the cross.  That Christ’s death on the cross grants justice, peace, deliverance for all of God’s people from our enemies.  And this doesn’t mean earthly peace, earthly justice, or earthly deliverance.  There are any number of wrongdoings in this nation, right here at home.  But those people committing those wrongdoings are no different than us.  Broken sinners, in need of crying out for justice.

God didn’t delay.  Christ shares this parable of justice with His disciples as He’s on His journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.  It’s just a matter of soon.  And that’s the same today.  The last part of the text used to be left off.  We didn’t read the last sentence: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I don’t know if they thought it was too depressing or negative or what they were doing leaving it out.  But in the 2006 revision of the lectionary when our Synod moved to its new hymnal, we added that sentence to this reading.  It was already there in Scripture, we just used to skip it, and now we don’t.

And I’m glad.  This is another key element of this parable.  Jesus just finished telling the disciples in chapter seventeen that He would return, He would come soon, and here we see it again in our text, “I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.”  Justice in response to our prayer is coming soon!

But verse eight poses a challenge to the disciples, and a challenge to us.  When Christ returns, will He find faith on earth?  It’s not a trick question.  It’s one of the strangest things about the teaching of evolution, that our lives and our world just keep getting better.  A simple look at history, a simple look around us tells us exactly the opposite.  Everything is in a constant state of decay.  You and I are moving constantly toward our death.  Only a return of Christ can prevent that.

 

Will you persist in your faith?  Will you not be discouraged by the decay of the world?  It’s not just the challenge of the text, it’s also the whole reason for the parable.  This is the response, this is how we persist in faith.  We pray.  God calls us His own children in baptism, forgiving our sins there and in the Lord’s Supper.  The faithful response is one of prayer.  That we cry out to God for justice against our adversary, and trust in Him that He will answer speedily.

So everything around the disciples was coming unhinged.  Within a few decades, the Roman emperor Nero would have nearly perfected persecuting the church.  The disciples were murdered on account of their faith, and the temple in Jerusalem was ripped apart brick by brick.

But the disciples did it.  To the point of death.  They certainly were both saint and sinner, but they persisted, they trusted in the Lord alone for their salvation.  And we are called upon by this final question to do the same.  To press on despite the pressures of our government, to persist despite what our nation calls the decline of the church, to not lose heart even when our culture seems without hope, and to not give up even if it means our death.

This is what the parable of the persistent widow or the unfaithful judge is all about.  Her prayers had nothing to do with the things of this world.  Rather, she called out for justice against her adversary, and she received salvation.  And so we too ought to pray to the Lord for justice in the face of our enemies, trusting in Him alone for our salvation in the face of sin, death, and the devil himself, that when the Lord returns, He will find faith on the earth.

The Key to the Scriptures June 12, 2016

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

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 12th, 2016

 

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

Function:  That the hearers stop seeking to justify themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Key to the Scriptures

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Why Aren’t They Burning? May 15, 2016

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Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

May 15th, 2016

 

Focus:  God gives salvation to all who call upon the name of Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers call upon the name of the Lord.

Structure:  Not this…or this…or this…or this…but this.  (with thanks to Rev. Fisk for the outline via Worldview Everlasting)

 

Why Aren’t They Burning?

 

This morning we face an interesting challenge.  We face the task of figuring out what Pentecost is actually all about.  And it’s indeed a challenge, as so many Christians today focus on it all wrong.

Pentecost was such a great day.  Peter preached and people just rushed to be baptized.  If only we could have more days like this.  If only the church could be better, if only we could just live more lovingly, if only we could just do more good for our neighbors, if only we could just preach like Peter, then we would have more Pentecosts!  People would come to church, they’d believe.

Well, at least that’s what our brothers say who think we earn our own salvation.  They think Pentecost is about us, what great works we can do before the Lord.  How it’s about our preaching, our teaching, our connections, our reason and logic.  Our courage to go out into the midst of the unknown. But in reality, Pentecost isn’t about what the disciples did, not at all really.

Pentecost is a one-time event.  One and done.  God did something completely miraculous and He probably won’t ever work this way again.  And that’s alright.  It was for a purpose.  Here we have God the Father calling out to His children of the old covenant.  He’s calling out to the Jews in miraculous way.

And this brings us to another thing Pentecost isn’t about.  It’s not about that (points to pictures of people with burning flames on their heads).  This isn’t the burning bush.  We don’t have a random Jew saying “Hey, look, those guys are on fire, but they’re not burning up.  Let’s go see why.”  That also was a one-time event when God called Moses.  If the disciple literally were on fire, the Jews would have noticed, they’d have said something.

See, again, it has nothing to do with the disciples.  And while Jesus promised that the disciples would be baptized by the Holy Spirit and with fire, that’s a one-time deal, and it’s not what Pentecost is about.

The Jews don’t come up astounded at the disciples being on fire, because they weren’t.  They’re astounded by what they’re hearing.  And it’s more than the miracle.  It’s more than the fact that all these foreigners are hearing the disciples preach in different tongues. It’s like me going before a group of people from every nation under heaven and preaching this sermon and they can all understand.

That’s another one-time miracle of God.  And yet we have entire denominations built on it.  Who insist that if you can’t speak in tongues, you’re not a Christian.  Hogwash.  That’s just absurd, and it’s completely contrary to Scripture.  The apostle Paul realized that when he told Corinth, “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue,” (14:19).  Tongues had a purpose, and they were a spiritual gift, but even in Paul’s day, not everyone had them.

But it’s not the preaching style of Peter and the eleven that matters either.  Tongues isn’t what Pentecost is about.

Nor is this day about mass conversion, and something we need to figure out how to do again.  This isn’t a Billy Graham revival.  These aren’t hordes of atheists.  These aren’t your coworkers at the annual meeting.  This isn’t the Muslims coming to POBLO for aid.  This is a special, one-time event.

Pentecost is a one-time event in the history of the church.  If you were here last year for Pentecost, you might even remember me preaching about how this is essentially the day the church is born.  On this day, God works through His disciples to convert the remnant of God’s people, the Jews.  To call them out of the old covenant and its ways, and to call them into the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He’s done for them.

The whole point of all of this, what Pentecost actually is, is the what of Peter’s preaching.  It’s the words he actually shares with the Jews, as he proclaims to them the cross of Christ and His resurrection along with a baptism by water that puts an end to the covenant that God made with Abraham and with Moses.

And this sermon of Peter is so long that we will spend the next two weeks covering it.  Okay, it’s not really that long, but we do have two weeks to unpack all the Peter said to the Jews that day.  And it comes from a man the crowd thought was drunk.  When we think about it, we can understand why.  These guys are proclaiming that some guy named Jesus died fifty days ago, but three days later rose from the dead and has just recently ascended into the skies.  It sounds like something crazy a drunk might dream up.

But Peter connects to the Jews right away, quoting to them from the Old Testament prophet Joel.  And it’s something we’ll see him unpack in full next week, but for now, let’s look at the text he quotes ourselves.

We’ve spent so much time recently on the apocalyptic writings of John in the book of Revelation.  This piece from Joel is also apocalyptic, it’s considered to be end of the world stuff. But, as many good prophecies are, this “last days” language doesn’t just mean the Last Day, the end of the world.

The last days of Joel’s prophecy are first fulfilled on Good Friday, as the needs of sinners, the need of a hopeless people, is met upon the cross.  Sins forgiven.  Nailed to the cross; no more.  Christ has set you free.  On this first last day, God judges the world through Jesus on the cross.

This is the blood moon reference.  Not that the moon turns into blood, although I suppose on the last day it could, but in apocalyptic Scripture, this is a phrase used to mark a major historical transition.  Here, the blood moon marks a transition from the old covenant to the new.  The old covenant has ended, been put to death.  There’s a seismic shift on the cross.

There’s still more blood and more death to come in this prophecy.  Because on the second last day, the one we normally think of, God will judge the world apart from Christ according to their works.  For those who are in Christ, this is a day full of hope, of salvation, of life, of joy.  But for those who think they’ve earned it, from those who think they are gods themselves to those who simply think they can do enough good to make it heaven, that they can be their own Savior, it will be a day of great sorrow.  A day of death, a day of everlasting damnation.

This is the true meaning of Pentecost, the true importance of that day.  It’s what Peter preached, the death and resurrection of Christ, a baptism by water that saves in Christ.  And it’s ironic, because those congregations who are all about speaking in tongues don’t preach Christ resurrected and a baptism in which God comes to you to forgive your sins.  They’ve missed the whole point.

The covenant made on Mount Sinai has ended.  Jesus has done this.  “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Peter names the name, he proclaims the goods, but for that, you’ll have to come back again next week.

 

 

Child of Promise: Salvation December 22, 2013

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Isaiah 12:1-6

4th Sunday in Advent

December 22, 2013

Paraphrased from an Advent sermon series: Child of Promise, by Dr. David Peter and CLK

Focus: God saved us through His Son Yeshua.

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

Structure: .

Child of Promise: Salvation

One of the biggest challenges new pastors face is learning everyone’s name.  After all, there were a lot of you and only one of me on my ordination day.  Many of you I know quite well, but there’s still work to be done.  There’re certainly others who are better at memorizing names than me.  Napoleon knew thousands of his soldiers by name.  James Farley claimed he knew 50,000 people on a first name basis.  And Charles Eliot, president of Harvard for forty years, earned a reputation for his ability to know all of his students by name year in and year out.

Names are really important to us because they carry with them our identity.  Our names are us.  That’s probably why we don’t like it when people mess up our names, it’s like they’re messing up who we are.  Names are part of our being and we treasure them.  Your name is even written in the book of life.

William Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet, asks a very significant question.  “What’s in a name?”  We still ask that question in a way, because names mean something, they carry meanings.  My name, Steve, is Greek for “crown.”  John means “the Lord is gracious.”  Adam means “man,” or “ground.”  Katherine means “pure.”  Amelia means “to strive or excel.”  Both Theodore and Dorothy mean “gift of God.”  But names aren’t always good either.  If you’re unfortunate enough to be named Ichabod, your name means “the glory is gone.”  Or even Mary, which means “bitter.”  But the point is, your name has a meaning, whether you know it or not.

During our Advent series, we’ve been looking at different names that the prophet Isaiah gave to the Promised One, the Messiah.  He used names that gave us insight into some of the characteristics of the coming King.  Immanuel means “God with us,” and it reminds us that God dwells among us.  Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, announces a ruler who will bring peace between God and men.  Nezer, the Branch, refers to reign of God, His kingdom which has no end.  All of these names point us to a promise.

Even the prophet Isaiah’s name has meaning.  In Hebrew, it translates to “Yahweh is salvation.”  That’s an appropriate name for our prophet, because that’s exactly the message he announced.  His primary mission was to announce God’s salvation to His people.  He pointed to a Promised One, a coming King who would bring salvation.  And that’s why Isaiah gives this Promised One, the coming Messiah, another name: Yeshua.  As a noun, it means “salvation.”  As a verb, it means “He will save.”

In our Old Testament reading this morning, Isaiah 12, the prophet starts by saying: “You will say in that day.”  He’s referring back to chapter 11, when he announced the Messiah would come.  So our text is a prophecy of the Messiah.  “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Yahweh, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.’”  Isaiah prophesied of a day when we would thank the Lord for saving us from His wrath and comforting us instead.  He’s predicting a day when God would save us.

But save us from what?  When we try to share our faith with the people we care about, they often stop us.  “I’m really not interested in what you’re saying.  You talk about a Savior, but I don’t see anything that I need to be saved from!  Things are going great for me; I’m having the time of my life!  I’m doing just fine the way things are thank you.  Don’t bother me anymore with talk of a Savior that I don’t need.”

That’s the typical attitude of people today.  They believe that they’ve gotten themselves where they are without anyone’s help.  They’re independent and self-sufficient.  The last thing they think they need is a Savior.  But Isaiah tells us the opposite.  Whether we know it or not, we all need a Savior.  We all need a Messiah to save us from God’s wrath against sin.

Our text makes no buts about it.  God is angry with our sin.  But that’s one of the biggest reasons people don’t think they need a Savior.  They have no clue what sin is.  One possible meaning for sin is to “miss the mark.”  But what mark is being missed?  The Bible answers that question, too.  It’s the holiness of God, His perfect righteousness.  We all miss that mark.  We all sin by failing to achieve God’s perfect standard of holiness.  Anything less than perfect, you’re disqualified from fellowship with the holy God of Israel.  Anything less than perfect and you face His wrath and judgment.  Isaiah declares: “Everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly.  For all this [God’s] anger has not turned away; His hand is stretched out still.”

But even when we failed to recognize our need for a Savior, God didn’t.  He promised us salvation from sin through His Word and His prophets:

You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Yahweh, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord Yahweh is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.

The Hebrew word for salvation is Yeshua.  It’s the same as the name Yeshua.  In English today, we get a couple of different names from that.  Joshua and Jesus.  Yeshua is the Hebrew, Jesus is the English.  Either way, the meaning is the same, “He will save.”  The Lord will save.  Jesus is the fulfillment of saying that God would become our salvation!

The name of the child born in Bethlehem was given for a reason.  His adoptive father Joseph was instructed by an angel to name Him Jesus.  The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: “Joseph, son David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21).

The Promised One was given the name Yeshua, Jesus, for a reason, because He would save His people from their sins.  The name means “salvation” because that’s what the Messiah came to bring us.

In the text Isaiah says: “Behold, God is my salvation (yeshua)…He has become my salvation (yeshua).”  In Jesus, God has become our salvation!  Jesus, both God and man in one person, saved us from our sins.

Jesus was true God to perfectly fulfill the law, to meet God’s standard of holiness.  Any ordinary human would be disqualified at birth because of original sin inherited from his parents.  C.S. Lewis wisely noted in his book Mere Christianity that “the same badness which makes us need [salvation], makes us unable to do it.”  God had to do it Himself.  Jesus Christ, true God, came into the world and lived the perfect, holy life that we are supposed to live.  His obedience met God’s perfect standard of holiness.

God also became a man to save us.  In order to take away the penalty for our sins, our missing the mark, our Savior had to be both “very God of very God” and “very man of very man.”  As a human, He took on the law of God that had been given to men and broken by men.  Jesus, our Savior, became a man to substitute Himself for men.  The punishment we deserved for our sin, fell on Jesus’ shoulders.  God’s anger and wrath on Jesus.  As Isaiah foretold: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”

So I ask you: do you need a Savior?  You may feel like your life is moving along just fine.  You may think you’re doing just dandy on your own.  Do you really need a crutch, a Savior?  A day will come when you’ll find yourself before the judgment throne of God.  His Holiness will not grade on a curve.  He won’t compare you to others.  He’ll judge you by His perfect standard of holiness.  You can either stand there naked before Him in your sinfulness, or you can stand before Him clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  Because you do have a Savior.  His name is Yeshua.  His name is Jesus.  He’s the One who was born to save His people from their sins.