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A Triumphant Promise July 16, 2017

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Isaiah 55:10-13

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 16, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s Word always accomplishes His purpose.

Function:  That the hearers come to the feast.

Structure:  This is true in this way…and in this way…and also in this way, with thanks to Dr. James Voelz.

 

A Triumphant Promise

 

For many of us, faith comes easily when things go well.  When our family is healthy, our economy strong, our jobs secure, these things can be a boon to our faith.  We see God’s hand at work, we see His blessings in our lives and we rejoice.

But along this way of thinking, faith becomes difficult when the work of God is no longer obvious.  When we can’t see His plan of salvation unfolding in our lives or in the lives of those we love, our faith can be challenged.

This was almost always the case for the people of Israel.  While we won’t focus on their wilderness wanderings, you can find a good dozen examples of this challenge there without much effort, today we are focusing later on in their history.  The prophet Isaiah is called to proclaim the Word of the Lord unto His people in the eighth century BC.  He is their prophet, the bearer of God’s Word.

The people no longer saw the work of the Lord in their midst.  And because they couldn’t actively see Him working, many had given up hope, even stopped believing in God altogether.  And paired with their unbelief was a vast display of wickedness, of disobeying the commands of God.

Isaiah’s writings that we have today are written both prior to the exile of the Israelites, and also during their exile.  That on account of their wickedness and their unbelief, God used the Assyrian army to put an end to this faithless nation.  They were captured; their homes were destroyed; men, women, and children led off in slavery and servitude into a foreign and hostile land.  Chapters 40-55 are written to these people to give them back their hope; to call them to look to the Lord, to look to Yahweh for their comfort and their deliverance.

Isaiah in our text today gives us this good news:  “so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word of God does not return empty.  It does its job; it fulfills its purpose.  This Word to the Israelites in captivity was this:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55 verses 1 and 3

 

The exiled Israelites hear an invitation, an invitation to a feast where money is no object.  Whoever is thirsty, whoever is hungry, let him come, let him be gathered to the Lord’s Table.  They are invited to come, to trust in God, and to enjoy His gifts.

And in this same invitation, God gives His Word to them of a brand new covenant.  They had made a covenant with God before, which they broke, which explains their exile.  And yet, here God is in the midst of their time in exile reaching out with His Word offering a new covenant, offering a covenant without end, offering them life.

Part of this promise of life and of a new covenant was the promise of a Messiah, mentioned any number of times in the writings of Isaiah, the promise of a Savior, of one who would deliver His people from their enemies.  Which brings us forward in time again to the time of the 1st century, to a land now controlled by Rome.

Those who carried on in the traditions of their fathers from long ago, those people were still called Israelites.  Despite their struggles to believe, there was restoration to those who put their hope in God.  There was comfort again.

But as we have moved forward many generations, once again that hope is scarcely found.  These people have lost sight of the work of God in their midst, of His saving hand so graciously upon them.  And as they struggled against the tyranny of a Caesar and his men, many set aside the promise of a Messiah.

At least, that is, until One came.  And when the true Messiah came, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, taking on flesh to deliver His people, the people saw their hope restored.  The promises of God were grasped again, and they began to long for God’s kingdom to come.

And even though these people got it wrong, even though they thought a deliverance from enemies meant a rescuing from the hands of an imposing, earthly king, the Word of God being fulfilled, the Word of God accomplishing its purpose, didn’t depend on them.

As the true Messiah, the true and ultimate deliverer of His people, Christ came and willingly died.  From a worldly perspective it made no sense.  But His enemy to be defeated was not of this world.  The enemy to be defeated was sin, death, and the devil.  This could be done by no champion of the sword.  This could only be done by the Son of God Himself, laying down His life to fulfill a promise, to succeed in His purpose.

Before His death, Jesus once again spoke of this new covenant.  He entrusted it to His disciples, that we would take and eat of His body, take and drink of His blood, and that in so doing, we would receive the very forgiveness of our sins.  That in that body and in that blood, that Christ so willingly shed the very next day, all the sins of man, all the triumphs of the devil, would be destroyed.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broke into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.

So now as we proceed to jump forward another twenty centuries or so, we find ourselves in similar shape.  We find ourselves like the Israelites in their exile, or the Jews in their Roman occupation, we find ourselves waiting.  We have the very Word of God, a Word that He has promised does not go unfulfilled.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling.  We have an unease among us.  A despair.  We hear of an entire generation of people, the so-called millennials, who’ve lost sight of God’s Word, and of His promises, and so they’ve abandoned His house. Which has led the current leaders of the church to worry and fret over the church’s future.  Who will takeover?  Will the church still exist?  But these doubts fall short.  It isn’t just the millennials.  It’s not unique to any one generation of people.  Not much has really changed since the pre-exiled Israelites.

We, too, live in a time of challenge.  We watch as the leaders of the nation we live in and would seek to honor, seek themselves to dismantle Christendom.  They mock God and pretend He doesn’t exist.  They seek to mislead His people, to cause them to doubt His Word, and to doubt His salvation.

For generations, predictions of the death of the Christian church have rung out over and over again.  And each time, these predictions fail.  Because they are not God’s.  They are not His Word, and so they indeed go out, and they return empty.  Whether the millennials return to God’s house in droves or not, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Whether there is only one or billions of people hearing His Word, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Because the Word of God goes out and accomplishes it purpose.

And so we wait.  As generations before us, as generations even before them.  We hear the Word of God, these promises given to us, and we wait.  In the history of His Church, we have seen these promises fulfilled.  We have seen the Word of God go out, and we have seen it accomplish its purpose.  The promise of a grand feast that knows no bounds.  The promise of a covenant, of life everlasting that cannot be silenced or cut off.  We have heard the invitation.

Allow me to extend to you the invitation to join me here in this place next week for that same invitation, to partake of a heavenly meal.  For it is not just the restoration of a small nation of people.  It is the restoration of all people. Of all who put their hope and their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We wait for the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ, when all things are restored to the way they were created to be.  We wait for the completion of the promise in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His Word, His promises to you, have been proclaimed, and they do not return empty.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broken into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.  The invitation is yours, and I’ll see you there.

 

 

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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!