Sunday, January 14, 2018

Serve with the grace God gives you.


Sermon for Epiphany 2, January 14, 2018

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Amen.

Romans 12:6-16  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;  8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.  9 Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  13 Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  16 Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Serve with the grace God gives you.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

            In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we heard that even at twelve-years old, Jesus had to be about His Father’s business.  Jesus never once slacked off at doing what His Father intended for Him.  Now, since we have been made children of the heavenly Father, what are we to do to be about our Father’s business?  In our epistle lesson today, St. Paul helps us understand what it means to serve our Lord, and the encouragement is simply that you Serve with the grace God gives you.

            In the verses immediately before this text, which we also read last Sunday, we learn that God considers each of us a part of the body of His Son.  We are connected to the Almighty through Jesus.  And the Son, who never once neglected His Father’s will, is our Leader and King, truly the very Head of this holy body known as the Christian Church.

            Now, take a moment to consider your physical body, do you notice a variety of parts?  Does each part serve the same function?  I would bet that your elbow would do a poor job of detecting the difference between the smell of a ripe peach, a favorite perfume, a dead skunk, or anhydrous ammonia.  But, I’ll bet your nose does an excellent job of detecting the difference between those fragrances.  Likewise, I am pretty sure that if you were a boxer, your chin would have a terrible time tracking and avoiding an incoming punch if it weren’t for your eyes. 

            Your body is filled with innumerable parts that each serve unique functions, yet they each work for the benefit of the whole body.  Of course, some functions can be handled by more than one part, but typically, we are benefitted when each part is working as it should.  The same thing is true concerning the body of Christ, of which you and I are parts. 

Considering that, St. Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”  I should explain that sentence, a bit.  In English, it almost sounds like God gives different levels of grace, but that is not what is meant here.  Perhaps, a more understandable translation of the Greek would be something like, “We have different gifts, right in line with the grace of the One giving to us.”  I won’t go into the details of the Greek, but as James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (James 1:17)  When God created us, He didn’t shortchange anyone.  And when He redeemed us, God didn’t leave us without the means to serve His will.  Instead, God tells us that as believers in Jesus, “We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

            As Paul wrote about using God’s gifts, he was instructing us concerning our vocations.  Furthermore, every vocation, every opportunity to serve, is a gift of God’s grace. 

It should be noted that your vocations can be quite varied, and they may change as the Lord moves you through life.  For example, each of you here this morning has had the vocation of a child and student.  In those vocations, we were to obey our parents, serve them gladly, and learn to the best of our abilities.  Then, as we grow, we each mature into any number of other vocations.  As parents, we serve as teachers, providers, examples of godly living, as servants, and leaders of our families.  Husbands and wives each have their roles in those vocations.  You may have a vocation as an employee, or employer, or both at the same time.  In all of our vocations, the Spirit’s guidance is both practical, and worthy of our obedience to God’s will and His gifts.

            Paul wrote, “If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.”  Again, the English translation doesn’t do us any favors.  Understand this passage this way: Whenever you are put in the position of proclaiming God’s message, make sure to do it right in line with what God actually says.  Therefore, when a man is called as a pastor, he dares not put his own spin on God’s message but must teach the Word faithfully.  The same is true for you when you teach your children, as you interact with neighbors, and even as you study the Word for yourself. 

            Paul continued by writing, “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach, if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”  The point is, we should consider all the things we are given to do as gifts of God’s grace and then apply ourselves with the intention to serve God with our best efforts.  To be diligent rather than lazy.  

Furthermore, this means that in whatever vocation God is calling us to serve at any particular moment, we should serve the Lord with full commitment.  When God asks us to teach, we should be diligent in sharing His Word faithfully, with reverence and full trust in the message.  If He puts you in position to give, do so generously and with a willing spirit, for God has blessed you with the means to carry out that vocation.  If you are given a position of leadership, whether in the Church, the home, your work, or government, be as faithful to that vocation as the Lord Jesus has been to what God asked of Him.  You see, Jesus was perfectly faithful in His mission to save, and when it comes to being merciful, God has outdone anything we could ever imagine.  He was merciful to you and me even when we were sinners, unbelievers, and His enemies.

            The Holy Spirit’s instruction for using our gifts of vocation continued, “Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.” 

There is no room in these obligations for us to pick and chose who to love.  There is no place for us to fall short of perfection.  There is no excuse for us to do anything less than our Head, who is Christ, would do Himself.  If you would like me to break this down and give you examples for how we should live in response to each of these instructions, I could certainly do that, but we could be here for hours, days, and even the rest of our lives trying to live up to the holiness God demands of us.

            Does that cause you to start worrying?  Are you wondering who could ever live up to such obligations?  Who among us hasn’t failed multiple times to live such dedicated commitment and love?  That is why we live and walk as the body of Christ.  You see, Jesus has already lived this for us.  All of it was fulfilled by Christ, and God has been merciful to us for Jesus’ sake.  Therefore, as we live and serve in faith, God counts us as having done all these things for our fellow sojourners in this world.

Still, being counted as righteous for Jesus’ sake doesn’t allow us to live as our sinful flesh desires.  Rather, as members of Christ’s body, God leaves us here on earth to be the living hands of His love for those who don’t know Him, for those who reject Him, for those who have never heard of Him, and yes, especially, for those fellow believers who are part of the same body of Christian faith.

God desires that the Holy Spirit work in us to Serve with the grace God gives you.  When God justified you and brought you to faith in His Son, He didn’t abandon you, nor did He revert to judging you based on the law.  Yet, as God instilled in you a new heart and a new faith, He changed who you are and your vocations in life.  Today, we serve not the devil who would destroy us, but the Savior who gave His life so that we too may live.  No one has ever loved you more sincerely than Jesus.  No one else ever hated evil and clung to good so completely.  Jesus was so faithfully dedicated to loving you as His brother, that He counted your life as more valuable than His own, and He laid down His life at the cross so that you may have eternal life in heaven.

The power of that Good News is what gives us strength to live for Jesus.  He died so that we might serve.  He served so that we may live, blessed so that we might praise, prayed so that our prayers are heard, loved so that our love could make a difference, and humbled Himself so that we can willingly put others before ourselves.  Even more than that, Jesus gives us opportunity to share His mercy and love with our children, with our friends and neighbors, and even with strangers and enemies.  Jesus paid for them all, and asks us to love them as He has loved us.

Dear friends, don’t be afraid of the challenge of living God’s love.  When God made you His own child, He credited Jesus’ righteousness to you.  Furthermore, when God brought you to believe in His Son, He created in you the ability to live for Him, to give and share and love like you never could before.  By the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, God continues to empower you to live and love for Him.  Therefore, with Jesus as your ever-living Savior, your all-powerful Head and Friend, Serve with the grace God gives you.  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Christ brings real healing and true freedom.



The grace of God the Father, and the peace of His Son, our Savior, be forever yours.  Amen.

The greatest Preacher who ever lived stood before the crowd in the synagogue at Nazareth reading the words of Isaiah found in our sermon text.  “Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’" (Luke 4:20-21)  Hear now, with believing hearts, the words of Isaiah, as we read in Jesus’ name:


Christ brings real healing and true freedom.

Dear friends in the Living Lord Jesus,

            Jesus read these words of Isaiah in His hometown synagogue, and His friends and neighbors were fascinated by His choice of reading, until He told them that He was the fulfillment of the prophecy therein given.  At that point, the crowd became livid in anger and literally tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.  The greatest Preacher this world has even known was rejected in His own town.

I tell you that Jesus is the greatest Preacher ever, not because He was so charming or good looking.  In fact, the Bible tells us that there was nothing about His appearance that drew people to Him.  And, Jesus wasn’t merely famous for being famous.  I also don’t mean to imply that Jesus’ eloquence was what made Him the best, even though His words certainly are unsurpassed, and crowds of thousands hurried to hear Him wherever He preached.  I don’t even mean that Jesus is the best because of the power of His speaking, though we know that Jesus’ words far exceeded anyone else’s in power for the wind and waves, and even the demons, obey Jesus’ voice.

What makes Jesus the greatest Preacher ever is that not only could He preach with power, eloquence, wisdom, and authority, but Jesus lived the very message He preached, and made everything God promises a reality.  All other preachers who have ever crossed the lands tell people how to live and counsel you on what they think you should believe.  Many can speak with great eloquence and marvelous diction, turning phrases and painting pictures in your minds that convince you of one thing or another, but only Jesus Christ brings real healing and true freedom.

This morning’s various readings expose us to three phases of our Savior’s life.  In Isaiah, we get a prophecy concerning the Second person of the Trinity entering our world on His mission to save.  In our Gospel lesson, we met the twelve-year-old Christ Child already being about His Father’s business of redeeming the world.  Then, we see Jesus making Himself known in His hometown of Nazareth, confirming that He is the Messiah long-promised. 

From before He created the world, God had planned these various moments in time, all laid out perfectly in order so that the Lord could make us welcome in His everlasting home.  God Almighty doesn’t want even one soul to miss out on the beautiful, unending relationship He has planned for us and Him.  That was the prime purpose for all the prophetic writings, and even for the nation of Israel.  God chose that people to be the worldly evidence of His mercy and kindness.  Sadly, for them, the Children of Israel were no less sinners than any of us.  Yet, God loved them, and He loves us, too.

Isaiah prophesied, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”  This is one of those prophecies that have application first for Israel, but ultimately and primarily for Jesus.  Certainly, Isaiah’s preaching was intended to give the nation of Israel hope as they were carted off to exile.  God wanted them to understand that though they had sinned and rebelled against Him, He would never forget them, and would once more rescue them from their broken condition. 

At the same time, the ultimate purpose of these words was to give us hope and understanding.  Jesus applied them to Himself because it was His mission to heal and save, to comfort and set free.  The Good News Jesus preached was all about His mission to be the sin-bearer for the world.  It was all about God coming to earth to save sinners.  Jesus forgave sins as only God can forgive.  And, not only did Jesus announce the forgiveness of His Father in heaven, but Jesus earned that mercy on our behalf.  With His perfectly holy life, Jesus satisfied the demands of the law.  No one else ever obeyed God in every last jot and tittle of the law, and in every desire of God’s heart.  Only the second person of the Godhead, inhabiting human flesh, could be holy as God is holy.

Since the fall into sin, every man, woman, and child on earth had been living with a broken heart.  Most didn’t even know it, but they weren’t really alive.  Oh yes, they all had physical life, just as you and I did when we were born, but all were under the curse of death.  We all needed new life and a new heart.  Therefore, God sent Jesus to win victory over sin and death, so that the Holy Spirit could remove stone-dead hearts and replace them with hearts that never die.  Many people, today, likely see only a need for healing of physical ailments, but Jesus came to heal both body and soul for life everlasting.

Since the fall into sin, every man, woman, and child on earth was born enslaved under sin, death, and the devil.  Again, many didn’t realize it, because that slavery is all they ever knew.  Still, in that lost condition, nothing any of us ever did was acceptable to God, for whether we realized it or not, we served our demonic master.  In our world, today, many people think that freedom means being able to do whatever we want, whenever and wherever we want, but freely sinning isn’t freedom at all.  It is nothing else but turning ever deeper and deeper into the devil’s labyrinth of shame.

Into the troubled penitentiary that imprisoned us, Jesus came as a tiny Baby.  Walking with us behind that unbreakable separation between us and God, Jesus experienced the horror that is life under Satan’s dominion.  Jesus wept along with grieving members of humanity.  He lived and worked in the poverty, cold, heat, and burdensome toil that is our affliction all our days.  And, Jesus saw the death that was coming for each of us.  He saw the fear in our eyes as the devil seems to win.  Jesus saw the pain that separation from our loved ones brings when the wages of sin is death.

Seeing all the sorrow that the devil’s wicked schemes have caused us, Jesus rolled up His sleeves and finished His work for us.  At the end of His years of living in perfect righteousness in our place, Jesus took on death and Satan in an eternal life and death fight.  The devil tried every trick he knew to get Jesus to stumble, every scheme he could imagine to make Jesus beg the deceiver for mercy.  The devil didn’t want to admit Who he was up against.  Satan thought he had a chance to defeat the Creator of all things.  But, after undergoing the worst torture mankind knew how to dish out, Jesus entered the final prison of death, and on the third day, God’s Son blew the doors off that unholy jail so that every former prisoner walking with Jesus could go free.  Because of His triumph, Jesus now leads His people through death into the mansions of heaven for life everlasting with His Father.

There came a day when you and I, also, were set free.  You can say that our eyes finally saw the light.  The burden of Satan’s chains was lifted off of us as the Lord Himself washed away our sins, and our death, as some believing pastor or friend poured water over us and announced that the Triune God was claiming us as His own in that Baptism.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God claimed you as His own dear child, and the once proud, deceiving serpent had to surrender you, there, before the power of the greatest Preacher who ever lived, for Jesus has given us life and forgiveness, holiness, peace, and sure hope.

For you and me, Jesus came “to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion.”  In the year of Jubilee in Old Testament Israel, all Israelites who had been enslaved had to be released.  Lands lost through debt or poverty were restored to their original families.  This was symbolic of what Jesus does for us by faith.  When His Word is proclaimed, restoration is given to those who believe.  When the Good News of Christ’s deliverance is believed, our chains fall away and a home in Paradise receives our name on the deed.  For the time being, we must walk this world as travelers, and ambassadors for the Living God.  But now, as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, we have a home of true freedom from the bonds of sin.

Isaiah speaks of a day of vengeance, as well.  While that certainly points toward Judgment Day, it also comes whenever the Word of God is proclaimed.  The same Word that brings freedom signals condemnation for those who reject it.  For those who reject Jesus, the chains remain, and on Judgment Day, instead of being welcomed home to God’s mansions, those servants of Satan will be united with that snake in everlasting misery, forever separated from the love and mercy of our God.  That is the worst sadness, for it doesn’t have to be.  Jesus already bore all of God’s just wrath and vengeance for the sins of the world when He went to the cross to suffer and die for the sins of us all.  Jesus paid the full price for the world, but only those who believe Him, and follow Him, will enjoy His return to take us home.

Isaiah prophesied, “To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”  God leaves us in this world to be lights of salvation to those still walking in darkness.  We might say, we are planted here to live in Jesus’ righteousness, proclaiming His love and mercy, living to serve Him and our neighbor, so that many more sinners may hear the Good News, believe it, and be saved.  As we do this, we are comforted by the assurance of God’s promises accomplished.  We are lifted up and helped through every trial, difficulty, and pain by the sure knowledge that Jesus is with us, that our victory is complete, and that we will be with Him forever in heaven. 

Instead of the despair that once covered us, we are now dressed in the perfection of God’s only begotten Son.  When our time here on earth is finished, and our bodies lie in the dust, our souls will be walking in heaven, displaying the glory of our God who restored us to His side, as perfect and holy as the first two people on the sixth day of creation. 

But let’s not forget our bodies, for God certainly hasn’t.  On the day our Savior returns in glory, even our bodies will be lifted up and restored to glory evermore.  Then all the troubles that once so concerned us will be no more.  The sins that once grieved us will have been forever put away.  Then, you and I, and all those who walk with Jesus, will live in glory everlasting, because Christ has given us real healing and true freedom.  Amen.

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christ brings redemption—and division.


Sermon for Christmas 1, December 31, 2017

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

Luke 2:33-40  The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.  34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,  35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too."  36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.  39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.  40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Christ brings redemption—and division.

Dear fellow redeemed,

            They were just two unremarkable people who were likely ignored by much of the world, but the Holy Spirit made faithful Simeon a prophet, and the prophetess, Anna, an evangelist, and two thousand years later, you and I are still being blessed by their words and example.  This morning, as we consider the little we know of these two, we will see that Christ brings redemption—and division.

            Except that Simeon was a faithful believer in God’s promises who was expecting to see the promised Messiah, we know him only by the words he spoke when he met the Christ-Child at the temple as the eight-day-old Jesus was being presented to the Lord.  We mainly remember the words Simeon spoke immediately before our sermon text—which have become known as The Nunc Dimittis—so familiar to us as our song of praise after receiving the Lord’s Supper.

            Simeon also spoke prophetically concerning what Jesus would be in the world.  He said to that young family, and especially to Mary, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too."  When it comes to Jesus, there is no middle ground.  Either you believe everything the Scriptures say about Him, or you remain His enemy and a rebel against the God of love.

            At the time of Jesus’ birth, there was a wide-spread misunderstanding about the coming Messiah.  Many people assumed that the Promised One would become a national hero in the mode of King David—a victorious conqueror who would bring glory back to the nation, reestablish the Israelite kingdom on earth, bring peace and prosperity to the Judean people, and pretty much fulfill all their fantasies for earthly life.  It is possible that these fantasies also tempted Mary.  At the very least, the Holy Spirit was making sure that Jesus’ role would not be misunderstood, and a glorious life on earth was not His destiny.

            Simeon told us that Jesus causes both rising and falling in Israel, and we might add, everywhere.  By God’s grace, many are saved who believe in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.  At the same time, rejection of the God-sent Savior is common.  Jesus, and His cross, remain stumbling blocks for many today.  There is a large population of people around our world who feel no need for a Savior.  In fact, many arrogantly assume that a sinner can save himself.  Many others reject the God of the Bible without a second thought, but all of these remain subject to the fires of hell.

            Yet, let us not neglect that Jesus is the cause for the rising of many.  Yes, Jesus was a sign spoken against among His own people, so much so, that on the last Friday morning of His earthly life, the crowds shouted out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify!”  This is also why Simeon warned Mary that her heart would be pierced through with grief.  Her beloved Son, the One God’s angel had told her was the very Son of God, was going to die for His people, die to pay for the sins of the world.  For you and me, this was good news.  It was good news for Mary, too, but how it must have hurt her heart in the moment. 

Thus, from Simeon’s words, we are warned that while Jesus came to win salvation for all, and God certainly wants all people to believe and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), many will remain lost in their sins, which Jesus later confirmed when He said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.  From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. (Luke 12:51-52)  There can be no union between believer and unbeliever, for the believers are made one in the body of Christ, which all unbelievers refuse to be part of.  In other words, Christ brings redemption—and division.

The fact that many remain lost should be as troubling to us as it is to the Lord who gave His life for all, but what can we do?  Let us consider one, Anna.  “There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” 

Anna was very old.  Scholars debate whether Luke meant to report that she was 84 years old, or had been widowed for 84 years.  I tend to think the latter and that she was extremely old, likely over 105, but either way, she was past the age when much of the world would give her a second thought.  Most people in that time didn’t reach such an advanced stage.  Even in our days of medical marvels and extended life spans, most people of such an age would be long retired, enjoying their leisure, or perhaps stuck in a retirement home, or otherwise incapacitated.

But notice Anna.  Anna spent her days in worship and prayer, dedicating her life to serving her Lord and Savior, who she now finally got to meet face to face.  Jesus later told an expert in the law, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39)  Anna demonstrated for us what saved Christians gladly and lovingly do: they devote their lives to serving God and neighbor.

Now, I’m not telling you that you have to spend every waking hour here at church.  In fact, Jesus tells us that He is with us wherever we are, and the Church is wherever we are active for Him.  But, when Anna met her Savior, she praised God in heaven, and then spent the rest of her days telling other searching souls about the redemption found in Jesus.  What a marvelous example for you and me.  She loved her neighbors as herself, sharing the good news with whomever would listen, and praying for any who wouldn’t.

Dear friends, our redemption is free.  You and I, too, have been bought out of slavery, sin, and death by the life and sacrifice of the Child of God born in Bethlehem.  The price was paid about thirty-three years later on a Roman cross, but our redemption was never in doubt.  It isn’t in doubt today.  Therefore the greatest gift we can bring to our God and King is to serve Him by sharing His redemption with others who remain in the same lost condition that once chained us.

Now, lest I leave you in doubt, we need to remember that neither Anna nor Simeon were saved by what they did.  They were sinners too, just as Mary and Joseph were.  Yet, they were saved by faith in God’s Son—the same faith that was given to you in your baptism, that has been shared with you every time you read or hear the Gospel.  The same faith that motivates you to get up every morning with praise to God in your hearts, and love for Christ and your neighbor on your lips.  Do we sometimes fail to love as well as we should?  No doubt!  But, Jesus’ perfect righteousness covers all our shortcomings.  In fact, Jesus’ righteousness covers every fault and evil that has ever touched us.

Notice how Luke closes the account of this incident: “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.  And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”  At the temple of God, Mary and Joseph completed the requirements of the Old Testament law concerning a son of Israel.  Throughout His life, Jesus fulfilled every aspect of the law for you and me.  In all His days, Jesus never once fell short of holiness, never once failed to obey the law or the will of God.  Still, Jesus was a Man, inhabiting the same flesh as you and me, enduring the same stresses and temptations that fell us, experiencing the same human conflict and tragedies that cause us so much grief, yet through it all, Jesus remained without sin, so that He could be the Sin-bearer for the whole human race, and for Jesus’ sake, we are forgiven, redeemed, and beloved by God—counted as righteous for Jesus’ sake.

I suppose I could wish that everyone would be saved if we just did enough.  But, the truth is, our efforts don’t determine who is saved, and many will remain lost simply because they refuse the grace of God, and therefore, Christ brings redemption—and division. 

At the same time, however, I must tell you that no one will be saved if Christians don’t share the good news of the redemption we have in Christ Jesus, for only those who believe in Jesus will be saved, and they can only believe if the Good News has been shared with them.  Thus, if we neglect to love our friends and neighbors and answer their need for a Savior, they can only be lost. 

So, who do you love?  Who do you know, or who might you meet in the coming days and years who needs forgiveness and grace?  St. Peter later wrote to fellow believers, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)  Strive to be an Anna, always giving thanks to God for your salvation in Christ and always ready to share God’s grace in Christ with those around you.  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. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Rejoice boldly in God’s gift.



Grace, joy, and peace to you from God the Father and the new-born King, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Psalm 98:1-9  A psalm.  Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.  2 The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.  3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.  4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music;  5 make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,  6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn—shout for joy before the LORD, the King.  7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;  9 let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

Rejoice boldly in God’s gift.

Dear pilgrims gathered around the manger of our God,

            Shshsh!  Shshsh.  The Baby is sleeping.  How often new mothers have urged visitors not to wake the baby.  But, do you suppose Mary wanted the angels to be quiet the night Jesus was born?  I highly doubt that.  I would think that Mary and Joseph were so amazed at the celebration that filled the night sky that they would have simply marveled to hear those glorious messengers singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14)

            There is a different reason, however, that we might expect people to want quiet in Jesus’ presence.  If we go back to a garden, at the beginning of time, we see a man and a woman, hiding under the foliage, silently urging each other not to make a sound lest their God, walking though His new creation looking to converse with His friends, might find them and notice they were no longer holy.  Their guilt kept them silent.  Guilt made them hide.  Guilt made them fear that death was imminent for their disobedience to God’s command, and guilt separated Adam and Eve from the love of God.  And, that’s where we enter the picture.  We too suffered from guilt.  We too feared to be in God’s presence.  We too had no way to cross the gulf our sin caused between us and our loving Creator.  Still today, guilt makes many people afraid to come near to Jesus, afraid of His cross, afraid of His truth, and afraid of His judgment, so they remain in hiding from the Lord.

            The psalmist saw something better.  Through the faith God had given him, the psalmist was given understanding of the Savior’s mission.  The psalmist was shown that the Messiah was entering our world to end our hiding, not with wrath and judgment, but with incarnate love, humility, and self-sacrifice.  Thus, you and I can also sing that angelic song as we Rejoice boldly in God’s gift.

            You see, looking forward to Jesus’ entering the world, the psalmist sang: Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.  The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.  He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  Why would we sing when we still want to hide?  Why would we sing when our natural response would be fear of our holy Creator?  Why?  Because God didn’t leave us to our deserved fate.  God didn’t abandon His creation.  In spite of our rebellion, God never changed.  God is always love.  Therefore, God came into this world to rectify the broken relationship.  And after entering this world by being born of the Virgin in a stable at Bethlehem, God wants everyone on earth to know the love He has shown to us through the life and death of His Son, the Man, Christ Jesus.

            Marvelous things God does for us.  God’s beloved Son set aside His glory and might to be “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)  God remembered His love, His promises, His righteousness.  And, God alone made our salvation possible.  Not only that, but God alone made this Good News known to the world.  God sent the angels singing in the night sky over Bethlehem.  His Holy Spirit caused the Book to be written.  His Holy Spirit empowered the prophets and preachers.  The Holy Spirit put a new heart in those who believe and filled us with faith, hope, love, and joy.  Rejoice boldly in God’s gift.  The Holy Spirit gave you a new life.

            Dear friends, there are all kinds of reasons people keep silent about the Lord.  Maybe they think it is more considerate of their neighbors’ faith.  Maybe they feel uneasy about rocking the boat.  Maybe their own guilt still terrifies them.  Sometimes, it is fear of the world that keeps us silent, but remember that Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  Jesus didn’t say this as a threat.  He was reminding us that His mercy is intended for all people.  His grace is available to all, but only those who believe Christ’s message will benefit from it.  As it is written, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

            As he wrote this psalm, the Holy Spirit was pointing the psalmist toward Judgment Day, and he recounted how the Church and all creation will celebrate the Savior’s second coming: Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn—shout for joy before the LORD, the King.  Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the LORD, for He comes to judge the earth.”  St. Paul later wrote,The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.(Romans 8:19-21)    Believe in that Baby in the manger as your Redeemer and Savior, and you will be singing and making music with the angels above forever and ever.

Psalm 98 is why we sing the hymn, Joy to the World.  That Baby Christ-Child in the manger is why we no longer have to be terrified of God’s judgment.  Because we couldn’t come to Him, God came to us.  Because we couldn’t reverse what Satan had done, Jesus did.  And because we couldn’t know God’s true heart until God opened our eyes to the truth, God did that too.  All that is left for us to do is rejoice in the love of our Creator.  Rejoice in the mercy of our holy God.  Rejoice in the self-sacrifice of the Son.  Rejoice in the love He lived for us, and the love He continues to pour over us.  Rejoice boldly in God’s gift. 

A time is coming—it grows closer every day—a day about which the Lord warns many will be terrified.  For the unbeliever, that final Judgment holds nothing but terror.  Our natural sinful man trembles at the thought of being judged for his works and ways.  And why not, by nature we could do nothing good.  However, the psalmist, looking forward to Judgment Day sang in glorious hope, He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.” 

Jesus is returning someday as Judge of all created things.  Many people will try to hush you if you tell them about that.  However, dear friends, as the angels said to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)  The God-man who will someday judge us in righteousness and equity came first to save us from our sins.  For His people, Jesus lived the righteousness we need.  For people like you and me, Jesus died for all our guilt.  For His people, Jesus rose to intercede at God’s right hand, and the Father has credited His people with Jesus’ righteousness.  For His people, Jesus has declared victory, once for all, over sin, Satan, and death.

Dear friends, you are Jesus’ people.  Baptized into the Christian faith, cleansed of all sin by that faith, redeemed, restored, beloved by God, Jesus judges you as innocent and holy.  Shout it out to the world and to the heavens above that Jesus lived for you, died for you, rose from the grave for your benefit, and lives and reigns over all things so that He can judge you as ready to enter the mansions of God to live with Him forever in peace and joy.  You see, as we celebrate Christmas, we aren’t just celebrating that a baby was born in Bethlehem; we are celebrating the Good News that in the Christ-Child, we have been given heaven.  We have been given hope, life, joy, and forgiveness, all in the Babe lying in that manger hay.  Don’t let the world stifle your joy.  Rejoice boldly in God’s gift to you.  Believe in the Son of God who has given you everything you need for life never-ending. Amen.

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

God’s Word comforts forever.


Sermon for Advent 4, December 24, 2017

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

Isaiah 40:1-8  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.  3 A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."  6 A voice says, "Cry out."  And I said, "What shall I cry?"  "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them.  Surely the people are grass.  8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."

God’s Word comforts forever.

Dear fellow redeemed,

            God said, Comfort, comfort my people.”  But why?  Why did God think it important to comfort those He had made His own?  The answer to that question teaches what is important for us as Christians, and most of all, how well the Lord of heaven knows those He loved enough to save.

            In this book of the prophet, Isaiah, much of the first thirty-nine chapters is law and warnings of the imminent discipline which God would enforce upon His chosen nation, because Israel had become apostate—that’s an uncommon word that means they had abandoned the God of their forefathers and rebelled against the One who had been their Provider and Defender since the time of Abraham. 

For many people, and many preachers and theologians also, God’s Word is thought to be most useful as a guide for living, or perhaps, as an acceptable standard for a society to follow.  However, if laws and warnings were all that God had proclaimed, we would all remain condemned, for the law never produces faithful believers.  The law only shows us how we have failed to be the kind of people God wants in His kingdom, so if only the law is preached, it will, at best, only lead people to a false self-righteousness, or to despair.  Yet, neither is the outcome our Heavenly Father desires.  Instead, the Lord wants to be our Savior—really, our Everything—our God, our Provider, our King, our only Hope and dearest Love—and it is His desire that His Word comfort us forever.

Like all people under the curse of sin, Israel didn’t always react well to God’s warnings.  In other words, they were pretty much like people in our time.  We too have the infection that killed Adam and Eve, an infection of sin that tempts us to make gods of ourselves.  By nature, we recognize that there is someone more powerful than any human, but deep down, we really want to control our own destinies.  The natural man worships only reluctantly, mostly trying to control the natural world to benefit himself.  And, that is the way we all enter the world, concerned primarily about satisfying ourselves.

That’s also why it is so important to hear the truth that God provides for our rescue from this slavery we are born into.  Disobedience brings punishment.  For the sinner, it means death.  To the Children of Israel, who had been rescued from their natural condition, disobedience was a return to rebellion and a return to the devil’s control.  Time and time again, the loving God of creation sent prophets to Israel attempting to correct their unfaithfulness.  Time and again, Israel rejected God’s prophets in order to follow lying prophets controlled by the devil and the world.  But, the time of judgment was at hand for Israel, and Isaiah had the task of telling his neighbors about their impending doom.

If judgment was all that Isaiah could proclaim, that would have left God’s people without any hope.  Therefore, God said to the prophet, Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.” 

Dear friends, God never seeks our destruction.  Judgment is always, and only, His last resort.  God was warning that many of those rebellious people would be destroyed, and the nation would be ransacked, but the Lord also promised that there would be an end to the trouble, even when so many were rebellious. 

The same is true for you and me.  There is an end to the troubles of this world.  However, for the rebellious who never listen to the voice of the Savior, the end is destruction.  But, that is not the end God wants for us, or anyone else.  Therefore, God sent His Son.  The Son entered our world to be the answer to our rebellion.  And, make no mistake, our rebellion was hard—hard on us, and hard on the world.  It is hard service to be controlled by a slave-driving devil.  It was a harsh and cruel life, for the devil and our own flesh led us to do things that were ultimately harmful to ourselves and to society as a whole. 

Still, the world doesn’t recognize the problem—never has—never will.  Only God always knew what was needed: a Savior, Redeemer, the God-Man who would live for us the perfect obedience necessary to reconcile us with our Creator and then die for the sins of all to satisfy the justice of our Righteous God. 

Already seven hundred years before the Christ Child would enter the world, Isaiah was shown this good news as an already accomplished fact.  And, the benefit was right then applied to the people who believed God’s promises.  God counted their sins as though already paid for in His Son.  Thus, His people could receive the reward of faith which is salvation.

This year we have the rare privilege of celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent on Christmas Eve.  Thus, as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming, while also looking forward to His second advent, we can consider it all just as Isaiah did when God gave him this revelation.  Isaiah heard: A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 

What the prophet himself might not yet have fully understood is now, in retrospect, perfectly clear.  This is John the Baptist preparing the way for God’s Son, our Savior.  All the difficulties and hard travels this world is known for were smoothed out as the forerunner proclaimed the Messiah’s coming.  And, the solution for our greatest problem came as the God-Child entered the realm of Satan to win it all back to God.

Dear friends, the glory of God is revealed in Jesus.  In Jesus, we see all the love and self-sacrifice that makes our God, God of gods and Lord of lords.  No other entity in heaven, or on earth, would so unselfishly serve those who had rebelled against Him.  The devil who led mankind astray always leads to destruction.  Evil ones have no love, and no concern for helping anyone.  Only the Triune God provides for the faithful and the rebel.  Only God shows His love and providence to both saint and sinner.  Only God was willing to give of Himself to rescue us from ourselves.  And, on the last day, “every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.” (Revelation 1:7)

A voice says, "Cry out."  And I said, "What shall I cry?"  "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them.  Surely the people are grass.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."  I don’t know what you think, but doesn’t this passage feel a bit heavy for the morning of Christmas Eve?  Even in the midst of this prophecy of hope, we hear that we aren’t going to be very long here on earth.  Furthermore, any self-glory we might assume to possess fades after a moment.  So, what is the solution to improve our joy?  The joy is that God won’t keep us in this veil of tears for long.

This morning, let’s take the first and last verses of the text for the joy and hope that is offered.  God first tells His prophet, “Comfort, comfort my people.”  He then foretells our salvation and how it will come about.  Finally, He says that though we are frail and temporal, He is not, and His promises are not momentary, “but the word of our God stands forever."  The hope we have in Christ Jesus lasts forever.  No matter what the world might throw against us, no matter what scheme the devil might try, God’s Word has the final say, and you and I know why that is, because God has made His promises come true.  Our Creator held Himself to His covenant, and our God is ever faithful.  In answer to our dire need, the Savior who took away our guilt now intercedes for us, works for our good, defends us against the devil’s accusations, and will never abandon us.

Fellow sinners in a troubled world, know that God has won the victory for your soul and your everlasting life.  Jesus fulfilled the prophecies given here.  Every obstacle to your entering heaven has been removed, and the Holy Spirit has given you a highway to God’s eternal home: the Savior born in Bethlehem, crucified on Golgotha, dead and buried, but raised to life on the third day, now ascended to heaven to live and reign forever interceding for you and me.  Christ is ready, willing, and able to work out your salvation and see it all the way through to eternal glory.  Peace be with you today and always.  Rejoice in the salvation of your Creator.  God’s Word comforts forever.  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.