Sunday, August 20, 2017

How earnestly Jesus wants to save you! 


Sermon for Trinity 10, August 20, 2017

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance from God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Luke 19:41-48  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it  42 and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."  45 Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling.  46 "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"  47 Every day he was teaching at the temple.  But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him.  48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.


Dear beloved in Christ,

            Several years ago, a young lady came to my office at the church in Klamath Falls, asking for some help with a bill, and when I invited her to hear the message of salvation, she said, “God’s not happy with me anymore.”  That young woman had done some terrible things, and she was thereafter afraid to face God in any way, so she went into hiding from God and His grace.

            Several years later, I met with an elderly man who told me he no longer needed to attend church or receive the Lord’s Supper.  He knew he was a sinner who needed daily repentance, but he thought he no longer needed the strength and assurance Jesus gives.  In reality, this man was hiding from God behind the fa├žade of an over-confident strength in his own faith.

            In the Bible, we see a number of people who hid from God.  Adam and Eve hid when they sinned.  They became afraid to face their perfectly holy Lord.  King David committed adultery and tried to hide that sin by committing murder!  The crazy part about all this hiding from God is that the Bible, and especially this text, makes it clear How earnestly Jesus wants to save you.

            The moments Luke reports here occurred at what looked like Jesus’ great triumph.  Jesus was approaching Jerusalem for the final time, and crowds of people went before Him, and followed after, shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"  "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  "Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9)  Jesus’ enemies tried to get Him to command His followers to be quiet, but Jesus replied, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40)  To the world, it looked like Jesus had reached the pinnacle of success, but as He reached the peak of the Mount of Olives, just as He could look out over the city of Jerusalem, Jesus wept, and in that moment, we see How earnestly Jesus wants to save you.

            When Jesus paused there, He knew what lay ahead for Him.  He knew that those same people singing His praises were going to be shouting for His crucifixion in just a few days.  He knew exactly how His enemies would finally get the chance to carry out their wicked plans.  Jesus knew the pain and excruciating torment that lay ahead for Him.  But, Jesus didn’t cry for Himself.  He wasn’t afraid to suffer that torment.  He didn’t even cry in sorrow because He knew His own dear friends were going to betray Him.  Rather, Jesus wept because He knew that so many of the people He was willing to give His life to save would continue to hide from His love and mercy.  Jesus wept because He wanted to save every sinner, including you and me, and it grieved Him that many of the people who lived in the city known as “the foundation of peace” would never get to enjoy the peace He was winning for them.  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.’”

If only the people of Jerusalem would have recognized Jesus as the Son of God He is, they would have been saved from sin and death.  Then, even if or when Rome decided to destroy the city, they would have enjoyed eternal life with Jesus in heaven.  But, God’s promised Messiah was hidden to the people of that great city by their own ignorance, self-righteousness, and greed.  Thus, Jesus prophesied, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." 

            So, how about you and me, do we hide from God?  How many of us don’t think it’s important to be in church on a regular basis?  How many of us don’t really want to confess every sin we commit?  How many of us aren’t too concerned if our children or our neighbors are chasing after other ideas, entertainments, and religions that focus on self rather than the salvation Jesus offers?  How many of us are quietly hoping that God doesn’t notice all of our sins?

            As we compare the numbers claimed on our membership rolls to the average attendance at worship, it looks like we have our work cut out for us.  The truth is, it is natural for us to be afraid to face God.  It is natural for us to want to hide our sins.  Our sinful nature wants to put selfish desires ahead of walking with Jesus, especially when that walking becomes hard.  Sinful man doesn’t want to be found guilty.  That’s likely why so many young people stop going to church when they first move away from home.  It’s easy to think, subconsciously, that if we don’t come into church God won’t judge us for our sins.  That’s also why people who know they are sinning often don’t show up in church.  And that’s why it is easy for many pious believers to think that we are safe from God’s judgment if we do live a good life.  However, there is a warning for all of us in this text.

            The warning for all of us is that there is a Judgment Day coming for everybody.  No one will be able to avoid meeting God face to face.  And when we do, our sins will be there for God and the world to see—unless—unless we are hidden in Jesus.  Therefore, how important it is to know How earnestly Jesus wants to save you.

            Jesus wept for those who rejected Him, for those who never knew Him, and for those who mistook Him as just a prophet or teacher.  Jesus wept even for those who were cheating His beloved people by turning God’s temple into a place of business rather than a refuge of peace and prayer.

            I wonder how many people avoid church because they think we are only in it for the money.  How many of our friends are afraid to come in, because they don’t want to feel judged, either by God or us, or themselves?  Sometime after Jesus wept for Jerusalem and the people who rejected Him, “He entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling.  "It is written," He said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"  Jesus had the ultimate passion for saving the sinners of the world.  He didn’t just weep for us.  He went to war with the forces of evil every day of His life, and even here, when He knew His enemies would redouble their efforts to kill Him for His actions, Jesus chased them out of the temple His Father in heaven had provided to tell the story of His grace.

            Right up until the authorities came to arrest Him, Jesus kept on teaching, kept on strengthening the faith of His beloved disciples, and kept on living the perfectly compassionate life God demands from each of us.  How earnestly Jesus wants to save you.

            The people who praised Jesus as He entered the city kept on listening to His words with rapt attention.  They wanted to know more and more.  We know that after His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, many of those people did finally come to faith in Jesus as their Savior.  However, most of the residents of Jerusalem ultimately rejected Jesus, and His followers, even to the point of driving the believers out of the city.  Their judgment came at the hands of the Roman armies who carried out the warning given here when they besieged the city, and then destroyed it, razing it to the ground and killing all but a small remnant that was carried off into slavery and mockery as defeated rebels.

            The point of all of this for you and me, dear friends, is that we must never forget that we too will stand in judgment someday.  What is in our hearts and minds cannot be hidden from God.  At the same time, Jesus wants us never to forget the mercy God has shown us in His dear Son.  Jesus willingly walked this earth living for us the perfect holiness we needed to be right with God forever.  Jesus willingly suffered the burden of our unrighteousness, and the torment of our deserved punishment, so that God can be merciful to us and willingly forgive us.  In fact, because of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf, the Lord God has declared, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Hebrews 8:12)

            What does Jesus want for us today?  He wants the same thing for you and me, and for all of our friends and neighbors, that He wanted for Jerusalem.  He wants us to come to Him with the burdens of our sins.  He wants us to come before Him confessing all that might interfere with us standing before God’s throne of glory.  Jesus wants to heal every sin sick soul, so that nothing may keep us away from the paradise God has planned for us.  Jesus wants us to walk with Him day by day, not to gain our salvation, but so that He can keep us steadfast in the grace and mercy and faith He has granted us.  Jesus wants to feed us with the nourishing bread of His holy, saving Word and heal us with the powerful medicine of His body and blood which brings to us again, each time we partake, the forgiveness of sins and the unparalleled righteousness He lived for us as He walked this earth in human flesh.

            Dear friends, Jesus wants us to live holy lives as becomes His brothers and sisters in His kingdom, but when we fall, the Father continues to reach out to us with open arms, ready and willing to forgive us for Jesus’ sake.  Why would we run and hide?  Why would anyone want to face God’s judgment alone?  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  How earnestly Jesus wants to save you!  Amen.

Receive with believing hearts the blessing of our God: The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Heed the Word of the LORD Who sees all.


Sermon for Trinity 8, August 6, 2017

The grace of Almighty God, the sure truth of the Living Word, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

Heed the Word of the LORD Who sees all.

Dear lambs of the living Savior,

            The psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105) And Jesus declared, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)  On the other hand, the words of our sermon text serve as a warning to everyone who might think to follow his own way.  But be warned, the Lord’s anger will burn against all who prophesy something other than His pure Word, and His judgment on every false prophet will be extremely harsh.  Therefore, we bow before the Lord Almighty and pray, “Help us to hear and know Your Word, O Lord, and protect us from the lying liars who so populate our present world.  Keep us also from following the visions and dreams of our own imaginations.  Be with us in Your truth; Your Word is truth.  Amen.”

Jeremiah 23:16-24  This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.  They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.  17 They keep saying to those who despise me, 'The LORD says: You will have peace.'  And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, 'No harm will come to you.'  18 But which of them has stood in the council of the LORD to see or to hear his word?  Who has listened and heard his word?  19 See, the storm of the LORD will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked.  20 The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart.  In days to come you will understand it clearly.  21 I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.  22 But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.  23 "Am I only a God nearby," declares the LORD, "and not a God far away?  24 Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?" declares the LORD.  "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.

            The Lord Almighty delivered these words to Jeremiah at a time when most of the nation of Judah was haughtily opposed to the God-given message Jeremiah had been faithfully delivering.  Ordinary people didn’t want to hear that God’s discipline was soon to fall upon their country.  The king and his cohorts didn’t think anyone should tell them what to do, and the elite of society, along with the criminal element that had been allowed to flourish, thought only of themselves and their wicked schemes for enriching themselves at the expense of others.  Violence was common with no one defending the helpless, and the priests and prophets were no better, for they proclaimed their own imagined ideas encouraging the masses to continue scurrying along on their deadly path to destruction.

In that dark and trying time, with judgment hanging imminently over the nation, the Lord again and again sent His prophet with calls to repentance and a return to faith, this time with another message warning the people to give heed only to the Word that truly comes from the Lord.  God’s plea for us, as well, is to Heed the Word of the LORD Who sees all.

Almost to a person at that time, the people of Judah rejected God’s prophet.  They didn’t like what he had to preach to them.  It didn’t fit their plans.  Arrogance was rampant.  No one thought the threats Jeremiah delivered could be carried out.  Either they didn’t believe it, or they just didn’t care.

You wonder, how much different is the national mood in our day and age?  More importantly, how much does that affect each of us?  Each day brings multitudinous reports of violent murders, accidental deaths from foolish behavior, wars, rapes, arrogant mockery of authorities, and all kinds of other selfish behaviors so rampant in our world.  Then, with hundreds of disagreeing denominations in Christianity, all of which claim to proclaim God’s Word, not to mention the many sects that profess allegiance to revelations from mysterious sources, how can we know what or whom to trust?  The easy answer is Heed the Word of the LORD Who sees all.  But, is that always easy to do?

Dear friends, the words of our text are just as applicable to us as they were to the Judeans of 2600 years ago.  God is warning us not to listen to prophets who proclaim their own ideas in place of the LORD’s holy Word, some of whom may even be sincere in intention but fall into the trap of going their own way instead of faithfully listening to the Word of God.  Furthermore, they are all liars who claim revelations from God that aren’t grounded in the Scriptures that have been confirmed by God Himself.  Many of those false prophets will claim that God still speaks to them personally, and we don’t deny that God has that ability, but the Lord Almighty will never contradict Himself.  His Word stands forever.

Furthermore, the Lord never had His prophets preach a message of prosperity for this world.  His communication with people on earth is also not common but rather a rare thing intended primarily to turn people away from their sin to faith in His Son, the one Savior and only Redeemer.

Now perhaps you are hoping that I will start naming names, and that I will tell you which denominations speak only the truth, but the key is that we keep ourselves well-versed in the Lord’s holy Word.  While we certainly pray that the church body to which we are members will always be faithful, what I really need to do today is to remind you that we each are responsible to be listening only to that Word which is faithful and true—that we always Heed the Word of the LORD Who sees all. 

The Lord makes it clear that His Word will always do what He intends.  His prophecies always come true.  Therefore, to know God’s faithful prophets, we need only check to see which ones proclaimed things that actually have been fulfilled, and if we do that we are left only with the books of the Bible, for the prophecies contained therein are fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

The so-called prophets that opposed Jeremiah, while preaching peace and safety for the people of Judah, were found to be false when the armies of a foreign king overran the country in a whirlwind of violence and destruction and carted off the leading citizens into exile.  Jeremiah was vindicated, because God’s prophetic word was true.

Using the test of Scripture, anything that disagrees with what God has already spoken can only be lies.  Anything that promotes self-redemption or self-salvation can only be the work of God’s enemies.  God’s Word is clear.  We are sinners who can do nothing to save ourselves.  We need forgiveness.  We need a Savior.  We need God’s mercy.  We need Jesus.

What we don’t need is prophets that tell people to keep on enjoying sinful lives.  We don’t need to be told to follow our own desires; those things come naturally to us, but they lead to destruction.  We don’t need theories that eliminate God from creation.  We don’t need politics and philosophies that encourage our natural state of rampant unbelief.  We don’t need anything that turns our attention away from the true Word of the LORD as found in the Bible from beginning to end.

Modern man has decided that truth is relative, assuming that what is true for one person might not be true for another.  Modern man likes to think that everyone’s opinion is as valid an any other.  In reality, however, what modern man really wants is to have no authority over him—not even God’s. 

Through the prophet, our Lord declared, “Which of them has stood in the council of the LORD to see or to hear His word?  Who has listened and heard His word?  See, the storm of the LORD will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked.” 

Anyone who claims to be personally counselled by the Almighty is immediately highly suspect, especially if that counsel isn’t drawn faithfully from the Scriptures.  And, there is a penalty for that arrogant self-promotion.  The picture drawn here is a tornado of God’s righteous anger dropping down upon the heads of those false prophets.  Jeremiah literally says that a whirling storm of angry destruction will whirl or dance upon every false head.  I have seen the devastating effects of tornadoes on earth; I don’t want to feel a tornado of God’s wrath forever bearing down on me.

In His day, Jesus declared, "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:1-2)

The Bible tells us that God wants all people to believe in His Son and be saved.  God wants all of us to turn away from trusting in anything but His holy Word.  That means that His law remains the true rule and standard for our lives.  That means that no one can earn his own salvation.  Anything or anyone that leads you to deviate from trusting in the Lord will be destroyed in the judgment. 

Yet, God calls for you.  The Lord Almighty calls to you with everlasting love and faithfulness, calling you to repentance, calling you to believe in Him and be saved.  That was God’s earnest intention for the people of Judah.  That’s what the whole Bible is truly about. 

Through Jeremiah, the Lord declares, I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.  But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.”  God’s faithful preachers call people to repentance and pour out the Good News of forgiveness in Christ Jesus.  We trust what God has said, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

Dear friends, you well know how difficult the struggle is to be true to the Word of our Savior.  However, there is no room for human opinion when it comes to saving souls from destruction.  God’s Word alone can make us right in His eyes.  God’s Word alone brings the message of reconciliation.  The same is true for how we should live, and what we should believe and profess.  Judgment Day is coming, but salvation is available full and free.  The prophet reports, "Am I only a God nearby," declares the LORD, "and not a God far away?  Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?" declares the LORD.  "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.

These words may terrify some.  No one can hide from God’s judgment.  No one will get away with making up lies in God’s name.  However, by believing and trusting the message our God has given in His divine proclamations, we receive complete forgiveness and the surety of reconciliation through faith in Christ Jesus.  God’s Word is sure.  Your sins have been paid for on the cross.  "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD.  "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.(Isaiah 1:18)  This prophecy was fulfilled by our Lord Jesus at the cross.  Do not listen to those who proclaim their own ideas.  Heed the Word of the LORD Who sees all.  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto everlasting life.  Amen.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Lord has compassion for those who walk with Him. 

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance from the Almighty Everlasting God.  Amen.
Mark 8:1-9  During those days another large crowd gathered.  Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said,  2 "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance."  4 His disciples answered, "But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?"  5 "How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.  "Seven," they replied.  6 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground.  When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so.  7 They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.  8 The people ate and were satisfied.  Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  9 About four thousand men were present.  And he sent them away.
The Lord has compassion for those who walk with Him.
Dear sons and daughters of the living God,
            How often have you been so enamored of a preacher’s sermon that you would willingly sit, listening, while noon passes by, and then supper time?  How many of you would bed down in the grass of the wilderness overnight so that you wouldn’t miss a word of preaching the next morning?  And, how many of us would do this three days running without complaint?
            A former pastor of our Synod, now glorified, once told his friends that in the worship service at his church, he dared not exceed the fifty-minute hour.  I believe that all of us are guilty, at times, of not treasuring the opportunities we are given when it comes to hearing the message of our dear Savior, Jesus Christ.  And, I include myself in that judgment.
            Now, you could honestly speculate that Jesus was a better speaker than any contemporary preacher, myself particularly.  You could also assume that He had greater insight into what the people needed to hear.  But, if we are truly honest, we are forced to admit that we don’t always want the good, spiritual bread Jesus wants His servants to distribute.  Maybe we think we don’t really need to hear the law again.  Or maybe even the Gospel becomes old and boring to us.  We’ve heard it all before, we think.  Or, maybe we daydream about all the other things we could be doing instead: an extra hour of sleep, or an extra hour of partying the night before.  Who’s going to plant my corn, we might think, or combine my beans, if I am sitting in church for an hour or two during those seasons?
            If this is beginning to sound like a rant, I apologize.  I don’t mean it to be.  However, I would like us to consider how hungry the listeners of our sermon text were to hear the Good News Jesus proclaimed to them.  And especially, I want us to understand that all those other things we might find so important will be taken care of for The Lord has compassion for those who walk with Him.
            If we take ourselves back to the scene of our text, we see that, yet again, a large crowd has come to Jesus to hear His amazing message and to receive His healing power.  And this large crowd of mostly gentile listeners was so devoted to what Jesus was saying and doing that they sat with Him in the wilderness for three days straight.  They had been there so long without food to eat that Jesus told His disciples, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance."  Do you see anything in this statement that would make you think Jesus didn’t care about His listeners’ needs?  Do you hear anything in it that would make you think Jesus thought they were foolish for not planning better?  Of course not! 
            So much of the time, we let our worries and our personal interests get the best of us.  Whenever we do so, we are really bowing down to a false god.  Now, that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?  If we are more concerned about getting more leisure time than hearing the message of salvation, is the Triune God truly first in our lives?  Or is it our flesh that reigns?  If we are more concerned to make hay while the sun shines than being strengthened by Word and Sacrament, is Jesus really our King, or are we ruled by our pocketbook, and our banker?
            Now, if the hair is beginning to stand up on the back of your neck, please don’t get out the pitchforks.  You know I too was a farmer, and I too have had to struggle with these same conflicting tensions.  And in all honestly, I am not innocent in this struggle.
            That is why what Jesus has done, and continues to do for us, is so grand and glorious.  The people in that crowd were most likely learning of Jesus for the very first time.  Everything they had previously known had only made them terrified about their prospects to be right with the Almighty God, but everything about the Gospel Jesus was preaching was new to them and powerful healing for their souls.  Those people were so glad to listen to the Good News of forgiveness and salvation through faith in God’s Son that they gladly, and willingly, stayed with Jesus even to the point of being faint with hunger.  But, Jesus didn’t forget their physical needs.
            Here, Jesus also put His disciples to a bit of a test, and they did about as poorly as we so often do.  When Jesus told His closest followers that He wanted to feed that large crowd, His disciples answered, "But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?"  The disciples also forgot who they were following, didn’t they?  A little later in this text, we read of how Jesus reprimanded them for not remembering how He had already performed great miracles of feeding in their presence.  You and I, too, must never forget who our God is, and what He does for us day after day, for The Lord has compassion for those who walk with Him.
            If we ever wonder whether we have enough free time to spend an hour or two hearing God’s Word and receiving His forgiveness of our sins, a better question is: do we have enough time not to be here?  None of us knows at what moment the Lord will demand our lives and our souls.  Might not we be better prepared if we consistently seek His face?  Remember Jesus declared, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33) 
            Jesus challenged His disciples, and they were found weak, but the story continues: "How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.  "Seven," they replied.  He told the crowd to sit down on the ground.  When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so.  They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.  The people ate and were satisfied.  Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  About four thousand men were present.
            Seven small loaves of bread and a few small fish, what good would they do to feed so many?  The answer is found in whose hands are holding those small items.  If it’s in our hands, most of us are going to go hungry.  However, if all those things are in Jesus’ hands, then we have nothing to fear.
No matter what it is that you might worry about, hand it over to Jesus.  If you are worried that you don’t have enough time, let Jesus have the first share and see if you don’t have plenty plus more.  If you are worried that you won’t have enough money, let Jesus have your heart, and money won’t be a problem anymore. 
            Even if you someday find yourself starving in the wilderness because of your trust in Jesus, don’t be afraid, for The Lord has compassion for those who walk with Him.  Now, I can’t guarantee that Jesus will miraculously provide bread for you in that situation, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me either.  And, what I can guarantee, and what the people of our text rejoiced to hear, is that Jesus has done everything well, and He has lived for us that perfect trust in His Father in heaven.  Christ has faithfully walked in our shoes without any sin.  He has been hungry and poor and hated and persecuted, and He endured all that without once falling in sin.  And Jesus’ perfect holiness is credited to all of you who believe in Him.
            We spend so much time in our worship each Sunday reminding each other of the great things Jesus did to give us life in heaven, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that this morning.  However, this text also serves as a reminder that our Savior, Jesus, never forgets our needs here on earth either.  He will take care of us body and soul.  How can we be certain?  Because after He lived that life of perfect trust and obedience to God, He walked the road to Calvary bearing our sins, and there, Jesus suffered the pain of death we deserved for our weakness, and for Jesus’ sake, the Father in heaven has counted all of us forgiven and free of the death we had earned.  And, the reason we can know this is true is because Jesus didn’t stay dead but rose again just as He had promised He would, on the third day of His stay in the tomb.
            That glorious resurrection from the tomb of death—that mighty victory over the powers of darkness—declares to everything on earth, to all in heaven above, and in hell below as well, that Jesus is true God, the King of all Creation, the Savior we need, and the One Man whom God has appointed to rule all things until all of His followers have entered into glory everlasting.  The Bible declares all these things about Jesus, and since Jesus rose from the grave just as He promised He would, all of it is verifiably true.
            Therefore, dear Christian friends, your sins are forgiven, and you have a Savior who loves you, who takes care of you, both, for life here on earth and for the day you stand in His judgment.  Have no fear, The Lord has compassion for those who walk with Him.  Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore.  Amen.

True love is faithful love. 


True love is faithful love.

Dearly beloved,

            Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Tony, Lauren, today’s a big day; not the first day of your lives together, but the first day of your commitment to put the other over yourself.  That’s what true love really is—to put someone else’s welfare above your own.

            You’ve chosen an excellent text to begin this new stage of your lives together.  In these few words, we see demonstrated the selfless commitment that is true love.  We might say that True love is faithful love.

            Now, many couples have chosen this reading for their weddings because it so clearly displays a true, life-long commitment to love someone else.  This is the action of love that I earnestly pray will be yours.  I’d like to explore that picture just a bit to help you know more about what’s going on behind the scenes.

            There are two women, a mother and her daughter-in-law.  Not the situation where we often expect to see such devotion.  So, what happened?  I’m sure Ruth didn’t make this statement of commitment simply because she loved Naomi’s cooking, or because she was desperate for a friend.  In fact, Ruth could easily have listened to her mother-in-law’s urging that Ruth should return to her parent’s household and there perhaps find a new husband and new love.  What Ruth had come to understand, though, was her necessity to possess God’s love.

            You see, Ruth grew up in Moab, and there, she was raised worshipping idols.  Growing up she was taught to offer sacrifices and honor to gods who truly offered nothing in return.  However, God had intervened in Ruth’s life by bringing her into a new family that was a part of God’s people, the Children of Israel, a family devoted to the Lord.  Through this believing family, Ruth learned of her Savior.  Ruth’s father-in-law was Elimelech.  His name means, “my God is King.”  Elimelech had been forced, by the circumstance of a dreadful famine, to leave Bethlehem with his family and dwell in Moab. 

Now, some might ask, “Why did God allow such a hardship?  Why put His own people through such a severe famine that they were forced to live as refugees in a foreign land?”  But, God always sees a much bigger picture than you or I can see, and God had a plan that included Ruth and Naomi.  Both women would be greatly blessed by their faith in the Lord, even though for a time they suffered severe trial and sadness.  That trial had almost become too much for Naomi to bear.  Naomi almost seems to have lost hope, even accusing God of attacking her, yet she does pray that the Lord would bless her two daughters-in-law.  But, look at the faith Ruth now expresses, a faith that will lift up Naomi in the long run.

Ruth 1:16-17  Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."

Naomi understood the hardships that a young, foreign woman might encounter in Israel.  As a foreigner, Ruth would likely have a hard time finding another husband there.  Naomi herself was likely to be living in poverty, so what help would she be to her beloved Ruth?  Furthermore, Naomi didn’t want to be a burden on this dear girl.  Yet, Ruth pleaded with Naomi to reconsider, and what a beautiful expression of faithfulness and love, what commitment we witness in her words. 

Ruth answered, Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.”  She as much as said, “If we have to camp in a desert, or the mud, or the snow, I will be there with you.  If we have to live in a cave, or a tent, or a hovel, I will rest there with you.  Whatever comes your way comes to me as well, and I will be glad for it.”  Now that’s a demonstration that True love is faithful love.  But why?

Ruth loved her mother-in-law, but there is much more than mere affection going on here.  Ruth said, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  Naomi’s people were God’s chosen nation, and Naomi’s God was the God of faithfulness, love, and salvation.  Through her relationship with this believing family, Ruth had become a Christian.  She believed the promises God had made to Israel, and nothing would drive this young believer away from her Savior God.  And again, we say, True love is faithful love. 

My dear friends, you and I today are also surrounded by many people who, in fact, worship idols.  Some claim no religion, others openly worship false gods, and some pretend to be Christian.  But, there are many forces around us that try to encourage us to turn away from the Savior Ruth trusted.  Some of the idols being worshipped in our times are personal satisfaction, pleasure, or the god of self.  Sometimes, it’s the idols of other twisted souls.  It doesn’t really matter what idol is being followed, they all lead to death in hell.  Therefore, I want to remind you of the true God that both of you were raised believing—the God who proves that True love is faithful love. 

As you take this step in your lives together, I applaud your commitment to unselfish love of your partner.  However, you and I also know how easily selfishness will creep in.  It’s the way of our sinful nature.  Therefore, you will need help—you need the true God who worked salvation in Ruth.

The Bible tells us that God loves the world.  God demonstrated this by His faithful, sacrificial love for all of us.  That doesn’t mean we always get what we want.  It means that God was willing to give of Himself so that we could enjoy the forgiveness and salvation we so desperately needed.  God sent His own beloved Son to live for us and to die for us.  "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends,” said Jesus. (John 15:13)  On the cross where our Savior died, and at the grave from which He rose again, we see boldly demonstrated that True love is faithful love. 

Lauren and Tony, as you live together in the coming years, you will have your struggles, your trials and hardships.  Life won’t always be easy.  You will sin.  You will hurt each other.  But with God, there is forgiveness.  And with God, there is love and strength and hope. 

The Bible says, A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.(Ecclesiastes 4:12)  My encouragement for you both, today, is that you make your God and Savior the strong third cord in your marriage.  Christ Jesus is the strength that will help you keep your commitment to each other.  More than that, it is in Jesus where you will find the ability to forgive each other, to love each other, to carry each other through whatever struggles may come.  The Lord Jesus will be the shield that will protect you from the flaming arrows Satan and the world fire against you.

God’s plan gave Ruth and Naomi some hardship, but it also made them part of the family line from which Jesus would be born.  Thus, a humble, foreign woman became a member of God’s family, and a blood ancestor of our Savior.  Ruth trusted that God had a plan for her even when she couldn’t possibly see it.  She committed to being a part of God’s people no matter what lay ahead, and she lived her commitment.  Therefore, Ruth was richly blessed in heaven.  This is the love and commitment I pray will be yours—lived to and for each other, but with your God and His plan firmly in mind, walking with the Lord Jesus all the days of your lives.  May God bless your love and commitment day by day.  His true love for you is faithful love indeed.  Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Enjoy Christ’s gracious answer to death. 


Sermon for Trinity 6, July 23, 2017

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Romans 6:3-11  Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.  6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—  7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.  8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Enjoy Christ’s gracious answer to death.

Dear redeemed children of the living God,

            Don’t you just love fortunate coincidences?  You know, the times when things come together in such a way that just makes your day.  Maybe you’re feeling lonesome and all alone when, unexpectedly, the doorbell rings and a friend you haven’t seen in ages drops by to cheer up your day. 

            Our sermon text is one of those fortunate coincidences.  I didn’t pick this text from the letter to the Romans because of the baptism we saw a few moments ago.  In fact, the text was chosen long before I knew there would be a baptism today.  Yet, how fortunate that on the day God welcomes a new child into His kingdom of grace, I get to remind you about the blessings baptism brings.  This morning, therefore, we learn that in baptism we Enjoy Christ’s gracious answer to death.

            The first thing we need to understand about baptism is that it is God’s gracious act on our behalf.  Though the pastor may pour the water and recite the words, the power is not in our actions, or our decisions, but it is God who makes this a rebirth, and a renewal, as the Holy Spirit tells us in the letter to Titus: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5) 

St. Peter, on the first Pentecost told the crowds of the gift of Baptism saying, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39)  This morning, the Lord our God called little Annabelle into Christian faith so that she too may Enjoy Christ’s gracious answer to death.

            Up to this point in his letter to the Roman congregation, Paul had emphasized the universal need of God’s saving work.  He explained how all people are sinners who could do nothing to help themselves.  Every one of us was subject to condemnation and everlasting death because of the sins that infest our human nature and because without faith in Christ there is nothing we can do to please God.  You see, until the Holy Spirit worked faith in us, we had been spiritually dead and helpless.

            Paul tells us that God’s answer for the everlasting death we deserve is to connect us to our living Savior, Christ Jesus.  We are reminded that Jesus told His disciples, "I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Thus, Paul would write, “Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” 

            A just and holy God has no option but to condemn sinful man to death.  The Bible declares, "The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20)  Because we are all sinners, we all must die.  Corruption requires condemnation.  However, not only do we have a perfectly just God, but we have a perfectly merciful God as well.  Therefore, He sent His Son, Jesus, to take on the sin that earned the eternal punishment we deserved, to suffer the death that would have banished us from God’s presence forever.  Then, in mercy, God connects us, in Baptism, to the death of His Son, so that His death counts fully as ours, and the just sentence for our sins is satisfied.

            Of course, if Jesus had stayed dead, none of this would mean anything.  But, Jesus didn’t stay dead in the grave!  He lives!  He rose triumphant over sin, death, and devil!  And through this marvelous gift of God’s grace, this washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” God connects us to Christ Jesus and gives us new life with Him. 

            Paul teaches us what this connection with Christ Jesus really means for us: he wrote, “we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”  Believer or unbeliever, the dead sin no more.  At death, the soul is judged.  But, St. Paul wrote, “If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.”  United with Christ in His death and His resurrection, we have been given a new, never-ending life, and the sure hope of resurrection from the grave.  Those who remain in sin are cast into eternal flame, but the righteous are carried on angels’ wings to God’s side in heaven.  For, as Jesus declared in the Revelation, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection.  The second death has no power over them.” (Revelation 20:6)

            Remembering that we can do nothing good apart from Jesus, we Enjoy Christ’s gracious answer to death.  That word, enjoy, has multiple connotations.  Here, I use it to mean not just taking pleasure in something, but that the gift gives us what we need and want.  To enjoy this gift of God’s grace in baptism, we need to remain in it.  That speaks to a life of repentance and of willing service to the God who loves us and saves us.  Certainly, it is a great joy and comfort to us that Jesus has won our peace with God and set us free from slavery, punishment, and death.  Yet, to enjoy that means to use baptism as a source of power to live and love according to God’s will and to return to it daily in sorrow over our sins. 

            The Holy Spirit says, “The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.   In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Grafted into the vine of Christ Jesus through baptism, we share Christ’s life, and He empowers us to do works pleasing to God.  Now, how could we willingly go back to sinning against God?  Our new man of faith cannot do that. 

At the same time, though, we recognize that our old sinful nature still remains, still fighting against our new faith, trying to drag us back to Satan’s wicked ways.  This is our continual struggle for as long as we inhabit this world.  Here on earth, we are both saint and sinner.  We are saints righteous and holy to God in our connection with Jesus, but sinners also in our old human nature until that day God takes us home to His eternal mansions.  Our encouragement, here, is that we dare not let the devil, or our own flesh, have the upper hand.  We have been bought out of that misery by the precious blood of God’s own dear Son.  Now, we are to live for His glory and praise.

            We use and enjoy our baptisms when we return to them in continual repentance.  Each time we are tempted, we are invited and encouraged to return to the forgiveness given to us in this gracious, washing flood.  Each time we are tempted, we are to turn back to our Savior knowing that He is ready, willing, and able to help and strengthen us and even to carry us through that trial.  Each time we stumble and fall, God graciously invites us to return to His loving arms where His forgiveness in Christ Jesus is forever ours through the adoption into His family He made with us in Baptism.  Therefore, dear friends, Enjoy Christ’s gracious answer to death. 

            Twenty years ago, this month, the movie, Men in Black, arrived in theatres across our country.  Toward the end of that movie, there is a scene that gives us a vivid picture of what Jesus’ battle with death was like.  Near the end of the movie, Tommy Lee Jones’s character is facing a ten-foot-tall cockroach that steals his gun and swallows it whole.  The hero then goads that alien bug into swallowing him as well.  It takes a bit of time, but from inside that bug, Agent K takes up his gun again and blows the bug to pieces.

            Our Savior, Jesus, came into this world to take on death so that we could live.  Unlike Agent K, Jesus didn’t get swallowed by a bug, and He didn’t go into death merely to get His gun back.  Rather, Jesus came into this world to take on the sin that demanded our deaths, and then He willingly let death swallow Him down as He gave up His life from the cross.  Then, from inside death, our Almighty Savior blew up death’s greedy jaws so that death can no longer hold Jesus, or us. 

Because of Christ’s triumph over death, St. Paul could write, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him.”  Connected with Christ in Baptism, you and I have been given secure status in God’s kingdom.  The devil can’t have us, and death has no power over us.  Yes, our bodies will still die, but our souls will live in in the mansions of God’s love.  Furthermore, connected to Christ in Baptism, we have God’s sure promise that on the last day our bodies will also rise from the grave, to be reunited with our souls, to live forever in His heaven above.  Then, victory will be complete for us as it already is for Jesus, God’s Son.  For “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."  "Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.(1 Corinthians 15:54-57) 

My dear Christian friends, including little Annabelle, for now and for forever, Enjoy this precious gift of baptism, Christ’s gracious answer to death.  Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore.  Amen.