Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Messenger of the Covenant comes for you.


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

Malachi 3:1-6  Look!  I am sending my messenger!  He will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord, whom you are seeking, will come to his temple!  The Messenger of the Covenant, in whom you delight, will surely come, says the Lord of Armies.  2But who can endure the day when he comes?  Who will remain standing when he appears?  For he will be like a refiner’s fire, like launderers bleach!  3He will be seated like a refiner and a purifier of silver.  He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and like silver.  They will belong to the Lord and bring him an offering in righteousness.  4Judah and Jerusalem’s offerings will be pleasing to the Lord as they were in the days of old, in years long ago.  5I will approach you to judge you.  I will be quick to give testimony against those who practice occult arts, those who commit adultery, those who swear false oaths, those who cheat workers out of their wages, those who wrong a widow and a fatherless child, those who turn away a resident alien—all those who do not fear me, says the Lord of Armies.  6Certainly I, the Lord, do not change.  That is why you, sons of Jacob, have not come to an end. (EHV)

The Messenger of the Covenant comes for you.

Dear fellow redeemed,

            Do you like surprises?  How about surprise visitors?  Years ago, my Mom’s uncle and aunt liked to visit their relatives on Sunday afternoons.  They didn’t wait for an invitation, and they often didn’t bother to let their target know they were coming.  Eventually, we all knew that this couple would be coming to visit, but no one knew which family they would choose to visit on any particular Sunday.  They would just show up at your door and expect to enjoy the afternoon with you, and being family, a good time was had by all.

But, what if the unannounced visitor would be someone less friendly, an IRS agent seeking to arrest you for tax evasion, the sheriff coming to put you in prison for some long-forgotten crime, or a bank examiner come to repossess all you own to cover an old debt.  That day wouldn’t feel pleasant at all.  So, dear friends, are your prepared for when The Messenger of the Covenant comes for you?

In our sermon text, the prophet forecasts a number of messengers God would send to His people, but he doesn’t say exactly when they would show.  Of course, we know today that several of those visitors have already made their appearance, yet One is still to come.  Like so many prophecies, this one is like looking at a mountain range from a distance, where there is often another mountain behind what you first see.  Therefore, this morning, I would like to walk with you through this text one mountain peak at a time.

Through Malachi, the Lord told Judah, “Look!  I am sending my messenger!  He will prepare the way before me.”  Looking back, it is easy to recognize that this is one of the prophecies that refer to John the Baptist.  John went ahead of Jesus preaching a message of repentance to prepare the people for the arrival of the promised Messiah.  Vast crowds flocked to see John, and many people did repent.  John became famous for baptizing countless repentant souls with his baptism of repentance, and the Lord Jesus, too, came to John for baptism putting Himself under all the law that was condemning us.

In our second verse, the prophet reported, “Then suddenly the Lord, whom you are seeking, will come to his temple!  The Messenger of the Covenant, in whom you delight, will surely come, says the Lord of Armies.”  This Messenger of the Covenant has certainly already come to this world in the person of Christ Jesus.  The Children of Israel had been waiting for this Promised One since the promise was first given to Abraham.  For around two thousand years, many of the Israelites watched impatiently for the Messiah, but still, just as Malachi had warned, His arrival came as a surprise.  Imagine!  Knowing someone is coming for a visit, and yet, when he finally arrives, you are caught completely off guard, but that’s what this prophecy foretold, and that’s what happened.

How did that play out in Israel?  Certainly, Mary and Joseph were taken by surprise when the announcement came that they would serve as the parents of the Messiah.  The shepherds in the field were caught by surprise when the angel hosts sang the news of Jesus’ birth.  Many of the people who met Jesus and heard Him preach were caught off guard, and even John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-10)  The priests and Levites, the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t know what to make of Jesus.  Even though they knew all the signs the prophets had foretold and saw Jesus fulfilling those signs to show that He was, indeed, the Messiah, they still couldn’t believe He was the One.  So, the whole nation of Judah was looking for the Savior.  The people longed to see Messiah come, and yet, when God’s Son was finally walking among them, He took them completely by surprise.

We come now to a mountain peak that should make us all sit up and take notice.  The prophet said, “But who can endure the day when he comes?  Who will remain standing when he appears?  For he will be like a refiner’s fire, like launderers bleach!”  As we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth, understand that we should also be looking forward to His return to this world as our Judge.  And as the prophet asks, “Who can endure the day?”, we certainly must admit that we are not pure enough to stand in the presence of the holy Judge.  If you and I have to stand in all our faults and imperfections before the perfectly holy God who created us, His holiness would immediately destroy us just as Moses was told, "you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live." (Exodus 33:20) 

Still, there is comfort here.  The prophet spoke of a refiner’s fire.  That fire has one purpose, to remove or destroy all impurities from the metal.  This pictures the Lord’s judgment on the day He sifts the tares from the wheat and throws the useless into the eternal fires of hell.  However, the prophet also speaks of the launderer’s soap.  So, is this Judgment Day, or is it the work that Christ first came to do?  In the distant vision, those peaks blended together.

Truly, this passage speaks of Jesus’ work of purifying all the people of the world.  God’s merciful plan had always been to send His Son to live in perfect obedience to His will on behalf of all of us sinners, and then God would place His judgment upon His own Son for the sins of the world.  That purifying, refining work is what was seen at the hill called Golgotha.  The wrath of God, that refining fire, was poured out on Jesus for all the guilt we carry.  And with His death on the cross, Jesus cleansed all people from their sin, making Jesus the Refiner’s fire and the launderer’s bleach.  Furthermore, Jesus put that refining fire and launderer’s bleach to work in you as you were put to death in your Baptism and raised to new life purified of all sin with faith in Christ Jesus.

The prophet wrote, He will be seated like a refiner and a purifier of silver.  He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and like silver.”  To understand this prophecy we look to the words of Peter in his first epistle, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)  The priests of Israel came from the tribe of Levi.  The new “sons of Levi” are all those people Christ has purified with His life and purchased with His blood to be an offering of righteousness by faith. 

My friends, through faith in Jesus, you and I have been made part of this “royal priesthood,” often called the priesthood of all believers.  For what purpose?  Malachi tells us, They will belong to the Lord and bring him an offering in righteousness.”  The Old Testament priests, who all came from the tribe of Levi, offered up sacrifice after sacrifice for the sins of the people.  Those sacrifices served one purpose, to point the people toward the final sacrifice of God’s Son, to show them that their sins would be covered forever when the Messiah shed His own blood in payment for their sins. 

As New Testament priests, we also offer up offerings to the Lord, but we no longer need to offer up a bloody sacrifice.  Rather, our offerings are the lives we live for the Lord.  We don’t offer our lives in payment for sin, because that debt was paid in full for us by Christ on the cross.  But, the lives of faithful believers become thank offerings made in Christ’s righteousness, and as we live in Christ’s righteousness, our Lord promises through His messenger, “Judah and Jerusalem’s offerings will be pleasing to the Lord as they were in the days of old, in years long ago.”  When Israel was faithful, God accepted their offerings as a pleasant aroma in His nostrils.  King David wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)  Likewise, our pleasant offerings are lives confessing our sinfulness before God and trusting in the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus has won for us all, and dressed in His righteousness, we reflect His holiness in this sinful world.

The next mountain peak shows us that Jesus will return to judge this world.  God proclaimed I will approach you to judge you.  I will be quick to give testimony against those who practice occult arts, those who commit adultery, those who swear false oaths, those who cheat workers out of their wages, those who wrong a widow and a fatherless child, those who turn away a resident alien—all those who do not fear me, says the Lord of Armies.”  The people accused of doing these wicked things are all those who reject Christ and the forgiveness He gives.  They are people who don’t fear God’s wrath, and thus despise His salvation, people who deny God His rightful authority, or deny His just hatred of all sin, or perhaps imagine that God’s love will require Him to accept even the impenitent.  Yet, through Malachi, here, God tells us that He will be swift to bear witness against those false, insulting sinners.  The One who died to pay for their sins will hasten to judge the defiant and condemn them to the punishment that all the wicked deserve.

A few moments ago, we all confessed that we have sinned against God.  If you and I had to bear the burden of our sins on Judgment Day, we would certainly be among those defiant ones condemned to eternal punishment.  Yet, we have a sure and certain hope, for our heavenly Father has declared, “Certainly I, the Lord, do not change.  That is why you, sons of Jacob, have not come to an end.”  Our God has never changed, and He never will.  In the Garden of Eden, He promised to send a Savior to crush the devil’s head.  Sin would be punished and God’s people be set free.  Time and again, God had His prophets repeat His promise.  The prophet Malachi was the last in that long line.  One more time God graciously foretold a coming Redeemer for the Children of Israel and Savior for the nations. 

You see, our Lord never changes.  He always hates sin, and He always loves His dear children.  God poured out His righteous hatred for the sins of the world on Jesus when He who had no sin became sin for us as He was nailed to that cross of death.  All along, that was God’s plan to make sinners like you and me right, again, with Him.  God’s justice caused Him to punish all sin.  His love made Him take that punishment for you and me. Because we are sinners, we couldn’t return to God, therefore, He came to us.  We couldn’t make ourselves holy, so through faith, God gives Christ’s holiness to each person who believes and trusts in Him, and today, as believers in Christ Jesus, God counts us in the category, “sons of Jacob,” and makes us members of His royal priesthood. 

When God gave Malachi this prophecy of the Savior’s coming, He included the promise that our risen and ascended Savior would one day return as our Judge.  Are you ready for Jesus’ surprise return as your Judge on Judgment Day?  We are ready when we live in contrite repentance for our sins and continual trust in Jesus for forgiveness full and free.  We are ready when we live our lives as daily thank offerings to the Lord.  We are ready when we live in Christ’s righteousness and as His priests reflect His holiness to the world around us.  We are ready when, like John the Baptist, we set aside our own wants and needs in order to tell our friends and neighbors to repent for the King of Glory is coming soon.

Dear friends, in His unchanging mercy and love, God has not destroyed us for our sins, but rather, He took our punishment upon Himself so that we could have eternal life with Him.  Rejoice in that Good News.  We now live as His priests, offering up the holiness of Christ who washed us clean in His own blood.  We live to shout continually to those around us, The Messenger of the Covenant comes for you.  Amen.

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

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Keep watch boldly for Jesus draws near.


Sermon for Advent 2, December 9, 2018

Grace to you and peace from Him who is, who was, and who is coming.  Amen.

Luke 21:25-36  25“There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars.  And on the earth nations will be in anguish, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the surging waves, 26people fainting from fear and expectation of the things coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  28But when these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” 

29He told them a parable.  “Look at the fig tree and all the trees.  30As soon as they are sprouting leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is actually near.  31So also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  32Amen I tell you: This generation will not pass away until all these things happen.  33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  34“Watch yourselves or else your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the worries of this life, and that day may come on you suddenly.  35For it will come like a trap on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  36Stay alert all the time, praying that you may be able to escape all these things that are going to happen and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”


Dear sons and daughters of the Living God,

            Jesus’ followers asked Him, "When will these things happen?  And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?" (Luke 21:7)  Their question came after Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which also serves as a forecast of the end of the world.  Those disciples had marveled at the beauty of the temple.  With the magnificent decorations that adorned it, that building was an impressive sight.  As we look around the world today, they are many marvelous things for us to see.  Beautiful scenery, majestic mountains, massive cities with millions of inhabitants, and technological advancements that would simply stun most everyone who lived before 1900.  So, are you ready to see of all of that be wiped away in an instant?  Are you ready if Jesus comes, today?

Our text reminds us to be continually ready for Jesus’ return, but more than that, it tells us what to watch for and how to be watching.  It says, Keep watch boldly for Jesus draws near.

First, let’s look at the signs; Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars.  And on the earth nations will be in anguish, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the surging waves, people fainting from fear and expectation of the things coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  If you’ve paid any attention to news stories over the last few years, you already know that people are worried about the future.  Forty years ago, climatologists were worried about a coming ice age.  Since that time, they have switched sides and become convinced that the world we know will soon be destroyed by excessive heating in the atmosphere.  The sky watchers are currently studying a space rock that maybe, just slightly maybe, might hit our planet many centuries from now.  An earthquake in Alaska just a few days ago sent ripples across most of North America and people were concerned; what if that happened here? (wherever here is)

Now, I am not a climatologist, nor do I spend a lot of time worrying about the changes that are happening in our weather or climate.  What I hope you notice is that what today look like minor signs are already causing anguish and fear among many of our neighbors.  So, what will happen if something really big happens in the sky?  A couple years ago, a meteor blew up over Russia and that set people worrying the world over.  Every hurricane, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, meteor, or comet sets the world in uproar.  What will happen if the moon is knocked out of place?  And the point of all this?  We are in those last days before Jesus returns.  Therefore, we need to be ready at all times.

When Jesus told His disciples to keep watch, He told them a parable.  “Look at the fig tree and all the trees.  As soon as they are sprouting leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is actually near.  So also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.”  Every sign Jesus mentioned concerning the end of days has already been taking place for almost two thousand years.  Every day, every moment, every breath we take draws us a little closer to the day we will have to stand before the Lord in judgment.  The signs are all here.  We don’t need to look for anything more, but should even greater signs come upon this world, we need to be ready, not ready to fight off the hoards of neighbors that apocalyptic movies and books like to imagine will be a danger.  No, the end will come far too quickly for that to be a concern.  Instead, Jesus’ point was that we should always be ready to meet Him, and to do what we can to help our loved ones be ready as well.  Keep watch boldly for Jesus draws near.

But, I hope you noticed something.  I skipped a passage.  Between the passages of warning I quoted, Jesus said, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  But when these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”  Did you ever get caught outside in a really nasty thunderstorm?  Do you remember how you reacted as the lightning bolts split the sky and the thunder booms immediately followed?  I remember several times when I ran for cover from a storm, ducking my head and trying to keep myself as close to the ground as possible as I ran for the nearest shelter.  Yet, notice what Jesus tells us to do when the signs indicate that terrifying moment when the sky will split in His triumphant return; He says, “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” 

As Jesus was being led to Calvary to be crucified, He warned the women who wailed and wept for Him saying, 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" ' (Lk. 23:30)  Jesus was talking about those people, of every age and time, who rejected Him.  When Jesus returns in glory, all the unbelievers of history will be looking for a place to hide.  Their fear will overwhelm them because they will finally see that Jesus truly is both God and Man.  The condemnation they chose by rejecting God’s Son will have them looking for any and every way to escape God’s judgment, but there will be nowhere to hide. 

On the other hand, the faithful Christian doesn’t have to hide.  We have nothing to fear from the end of this world.  People duck and hide when they are afraid of judgment and death, but dear friends, you already died with Jesus in your baptism, and you have already been raised to new life through the faith you were given in that cleansing bath.  Jesus reminds us of what He has done for us when He says, “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”  Our victory over sin, death, and this world has been won—by Jesus.  Therefore, we can wait expectantly, eagerly for our Savior’s return, doubly confident, because Jesus also declared, “Amen I tell you: This generation will not pass away until all these things happen.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  Thus far, our God and Savior has kept every promise He has made, so we have every reason to trust His promises now.

So, for now, we wait, but we don’t wait in fear.  Rather, we wait in eager expectation for Jesus to come and take us home.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross, He carried your sins, and mine.  When Jesus was obeying His Father in everything, He was living righteousness for you and me.  Both Jesus’ life, and His death, became ours through faith in Him, so when Christ rose from the grave, your redemption and salvation also became a certain reality.

Having been set free from the fear of judgment, we still need to live rightly for the sake of our neighbors as much as for our own sake.  We certainly don’t want to be trapped in the sin and unbelief of the world, nor do we want to hide the joy we have in Christ.  Jesus said, “Watch yourselves or else your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the worries of this life, and that day may come on you suddenly.  For it will come like a trap on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Stay alert all the time, praying that you may be able to escape all these things that are going to happen and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

No person knows when Jesus will return to judge the world, and anyone who claims to have that figured out marks himself as a liar and a false teacher.  No one will have time to change his ways when the end comes.  Therefore Jesus calls for us to live in constant readiness, guarding our hearts and minds by the power of His Gospel, living in repentant faith, using God’s Word as our guide in everything while properly dividing law and Gospel, praying for our own salvation and for that of those we love, and always keeping our heads up in eager hope of the glorious reunion with our Savior.

We can keep watch for Jesus with all boldness and confidence: just trust what Jesus said, “When you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Amen I tell you: This generation will not pass away until all these things happen.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  The signs Jesus promised, and the upheavals we see in nature, aren’t sent to scare His followers.  Rather, they are there to remind us of Jesus’ promises.  Through good times and bad Jesus’ word remains true.  So whatever happens in the world around us, remember what God’s Word has told us: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned.” (Jn. 3:17-18)  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mk. 16:16)  “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)  "Friend, your sins are forgiven." (Lk. 5:20)  "This is My body which is given for you (Lk. 22:19)  "Drink from it, all of you.  This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:27-28)  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:20)

Dear friends, these passages, and a so many others, give us certain confidence that God has reconciled Himself to us through Christ Jesus.  The reason so much of our world is terrified is because deep down, everybody knows they are sinners who must face God’s justice.  Every troubling sign on the earth, or in the sky, reminds the wicked subconsciously that there is a debt to pay for their unbelief.  Yet, for those of us whom God has claimed as His own, and to whom He has given faith in Christ Jesus, Judgment Day brings nothing but joy and celebration.  Be confident in the grace of God.  Remember the love that put Jesus on the cross so that your sins are forgiven.  Remember the blessing that the gift of faith brought you—peace with God and a home in heaven.  Keep your head up in certain confidence.  Keep watch boldly for Jesus draws near.  Amen.

May the LORD our God be with us, just as He was with our fathers.  May He never leave us or abandon us.  May He turn our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways.  Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Be awake and dressed in the Lord Jesus.


Sermon for Advent 1, December 2, 2018

Now may the God of hope fill you with complete joy and peace as you continue to believe, so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Romans 13:11-14  11And do this since you understand the present time.  It is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  12The night is almost over, and the day is drawing near.  So let us put away the deeds of darkness and put on the weapons of light.  13Let us walk decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual sin and wild living, not in strife and jealousy.  14Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not give any thought to satisfying the desires of your sinful flesh.

Be awake and dressed in the Lord Jesus.

Dear friends walking in the light,

            From 1934 until 1977, the comic artist, Al Capp, published the cartoon strip entitled, Li’l Abner.  The main character of that cartoon, Li’l Abner, was a backwoods lout who preferred not to work for a living, and as the strip progressed, he landed what he considered the perfect job, a mattress tester.  In that employment, Abner could sleep all day and enjoy himself at night. 

            The comic strip, Li’l Abner, is considered by some to be one of the greatest satirical works in American history.  Those of us who read that strip usually laughed heartily at some of the situations Al Capp drew.  However, there was a serious side.  Capp was poking fun at man’s nature.  Through his comedic drawing, he often brought attention to the worst side of humanity in each of us.  

Now, I mention this because in our sermon text this morning, the Holy Spirit cautions believers against our natural tendency to spend our days being spiritual “mattress testers.”  He warns against allowing the desires of our flesh and the temptations of the world to keep us sleeping.  Because spiritual slumber leaves a person exposed to eternal judgment, we are enjoined to Be awake and dressed in the Lord Jesus.

            Under the power of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul wrote here not about our justification, but about our sanctified living, and especially how the Christian believer should "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Romans 13:9)  Thus he wrote,And do this since you understand the present time.  It is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  Paul is writing to believers, yet he warns against spiritual slumber.  The intention is to keep us ever vigilant against those things that would lead us away from Christ, and because the eternal destination of our souls, and the souls of our neighbors, is at stake, there is not a moment to waste.

            So, you might be wondering, what does it mean to be a spiritual mattress tester?  Could that be you and me?  Or should we point our fingers at other people?  Now, the unbeliever doesn’t care that Jesus died for him.  He certainly doesn’t have any desire to spend his time in church.  What God says about sin or holy living makes no impact on the faithless.  So, to be clear, Paul wrote to believers, really to all those who call themselves Christians.  What this is about is repentance, true repentance in which we actually are sorry for our sins, believe in Christ Jesus for forgiveness full and free, and truly strive to live for Him. 

            One of the dangers that many theologians have worried about over the centuries is that the human nature is so corrupt it wants to use God’s free forgiveness to indulge in sinful desires.  In other words, when we hear that we are forgiven, the sinful nature has a tendency to think that it doesn’t matter how we live.  And concerning our justification, that is true, because we are not in any way saved by how we live, since salvation is God’s free gift to those who believe—without any merit, worthiness, or contribution on the part of the believer.  As you well know from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) 

            Here, however, the Holy Spirit teaches about sanctification, the lives of holiness we are to live as Christian believers.  Commenting on this chapter of the letter, and also quoting the church father Bernard, Martin Luther wrote, “‘He who does not constantly hasten to repent says by this action that he does not need repentance.’  And if he does not need repentance, he does not need mercy; and if he does not need mercy, then he does not need salvation.  This is something which cannot happen, unless one is without sin, as God and His angels are.”[1]  Luther meant that the person who lives this way really doesn’t have faith in Christ or in the words of Scripture, regardless of what he or she might claim.  As you can see, it is a serious and deadly thing to be a mattress tester.

            When Paul says, here, that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” he means that our time on earth is limited.  Since, no person can predict what day Jesus will return to judge the world, no one dare believe that he has tomorrow to come to faith or to live the Christian faith.  And, it isn’t only the final Judgment Day that should concern us, for none of us can accurately predict at what point God will decide to end our lives and call us to face our Redeemer in our personal judgment day.  Therefore, we don’t ever want to be found in spiritual slumber, because being found outside of holiness spells eternal disaster.

            Paul wrote, The night is almost over, and the day is drawing near.  So let us put away the deeds of darkness and put on the weapons of light.  This troubled world has been spinning in its corrupt state for thousands of years.  God has been exceedingly merciful in allowing life to continue while delaying the condemnation of the wicked so that some could be brought to saving faith.  But, the works of salvation God promised, and Jesus came to accomplish, have all been completed.  Thus, there is no reason for God to keep this world going any longer except for His mercy.  Only a fool would believe that Judgment Day can’t come at any moment.  Likewise, only a fool would be content in robes of false self-righteousness or filthy rags dripping in evil and stinking of our sins, rather than be dressed in the righteousness of Christ.

But, how about the spiritual mattress tester?  And, who is that person?  That is the Christian who knows Jesus lived and died for him, but considers it too much effort to change his daily living for Jesus.  Maybe that is the farmer being more concerned about his crop than about hearing the Word, or the business person who puts priority on profit rather than honest dealing or partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  It can be the student who substitutes secular speculation over Bible truth, the family so busy with sports and recreation that Sunday school, Bible study, and worship never enter the picture.

With a text like this, it can be tempting to point fingers at someone else as the sleeper who is headed to hell, but any of us can get so wrapped up in the activities, trials, and temptations of the world that we neglect to bow before God in humble repentance, or to live as lights of God’s love for our neighbors.

This isn’t new.  Paul recognized that challenge as he wrote this letter to the Roman church.  Already then, some wrongly thought they deserved God’s forgiveness while others were caught in the trap of permissiveness.  Therefore, Paul wrote, Let us walk decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual sin and wild living, not in strife and jealousy. The warning here is to keep ourselves away from any form of sin, and from anything that would intoxicate our hearts and lead us away from the Savior who gave His life to make us holy and acceptable to the Father.  We dare not let anything take priority over the relationship God Almighty established with us when He brought us to faith. 

Dear friends, when you were baptized, you were dressed in Christ Jesus and covered by His righteousness.  Now, do you suppose there might be some tension between our old sinful nature and the righteous dress Christ now puts over us?  Of course!  Yet, our consciences can’t bear that tension alone.  If we continue to live in our sins, something will have to give, and often it is faith in Christ. 

Our Savior never allowed Himself to be led astray as He mingled with the sinners of His day sharing His Father’s mercy.  But, just as He spoke to the sinful woman the Jews dragged before Him, Jesus says to us, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)  Free grace never gives permission to sin, because living in unrepentant sin is a sure path to living without Jesus. 

At the same time, our Lord and Savior knew we would struggle against the temptations of the world and our own natural flesh, so He urgently compels us, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)  Based on Jesus’ promise to forgive the sins of all who repent, the Spirit through Paul urges us, Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not give any thought to satisfying the desires of your sinful flesh.  In other words, return daily, and continually, to the Baptism that washed us clean and dressed us in Christ’s righteousness.  Whenever you find yourself tempted to sin, run to Jesus in faith and live.  If at any time you discover some sin you have committed, don’t wait for it to corrupt your thinking but turn to your Savior in repentance and commitment to live better.  And never forget that this church is here to share with you the grace of God in Christ Jesus your Savior.

Dear believing ones, more often than we might care to admit, when a believing person starts to live in sin, he or she then feels like nothing can change that.  Now, hearing that term some will likely assume sexual sins, but it can be any pet sin that keeps you away from the Lord.  It could be a husband abusing his wife with authoritative belligerence.  It can be a wife ignoring her husband’s headship, or children abusing their parents’ authority.  It can be sexual sins, either publicly living together outside the bonds of marriage, or the private sins that so easily creep into our lives through the internet and perverted entertainments so pervasive these days.  It can be theft of property or taking the Lord’s name in vain.  The list goes on and on with every commandment God gave us.  None of us are innocent of sin.  But, whatever our personal sins, God wants to awaken us to the forgiveness He graciously offers through confession and absolution, and through the body and blood of His Son sacrificed for you on the cross and shared with you personally in the Lord’s Supper.

The instructions for Christian living given to us here warn that if you think it doesn’t matter how you live, you are already lost.  If you think you have no need to be in church on a regular basis, you are lying to yourself and hurting your friends and neighbors, as well.  It isn’t important to come to the Sunday worship so that the pastor feels good; it is important to feed and cleanse your soul, to renew the covenant God made with you at your baptism.  Here each week, you hear the Lord’s declaration that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  Here, you time and again partake, with the bread and wine, of the body and blood the Savior has given and shed for you.  Jesus gave this Supper to be your assurance of God’s grace, and His comfort for spirits broken in sorrow over sins.

The cartoonist, Al Capp, tried to poke fun at the world because he understood the total corruption of the human nature.  Today, our modern society tries very hard to convince people that we should all be spiritual mattress testers.  Our culture is convinced that no one should ever dare tell another person he is a sinner.  Any lifestyle, any misbehavior or depravity is considered acceptable and even progressive to our modern world, but it really wasn’t any different in Paul’s day.  The road to hell is very well travelled, and no, it won’t always be easy or popular to lead the sinner to Jesus.  On the other hand, the road to heaven is narrow and often unknown. 

However, if we are not willing to wake up from slumber and be a true friend to those around us, we curse them to death—eternal death.  Sin needs to be removed from every soul.  It is cleaned away only through faith in Jesus, and right now is the one time you are given to keep yourself dressed in the light that is Christ, and these few days you have to walk on earth is the only time you have to share that light with others you love. 

To the Ephesians, St. Paul wrote, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)  We might add, not to sleep our lives away in immoral or neglectful living, but rather, to make being awake and dressed in your Lord Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament the highest priority in your life. 

Dear friends, hear again and again of the forgiveness and salvation that is yours through faith in Christ Jesus and be strengthened by the Gospel that is the only power that can and will cleanse you for life everlasting.  No, your good works won’t save you, but they are necessary, for they may save someone near and dear to you.  For your own good and for the well-being of those you love, Be awake and dressed in the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

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



[1] Luther’s Works, AE vol. 25, pg. 478.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

See what God is creating for you!



To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his own blood and made us a kingdom and priests to God his Father—to him be the glory and the power forever.  Amen.


See what God is creating for you!

Dear brothers and sisters of the King of Glory,

            So what’s next?  For the past year, we have been feasting on the bread of life, a grand and sumptuous banquet of the message of salvation that our God and Savior has been preparing for us since the beginning of time; so what’s next?  Isaiah answers: See what God is creating for you!

            Israel was in trouble.  God’s chosen people had wandered so far and so often from the God of heaven and earth that His patience with them was coming to an end.  For much of the chosen nation, death would mean eternal banishment in the depths of hell.  Yet, the Lord remained faithful.  As He has always promised, He would work salvation and eternal life for those who believed in Him.  Therefore, even though the nation of Israel, and later, the southern nation of Judah, would be overrun by foreign powers, God would keep a remnant people to whom He would show His mercy.

We know from history that the ten northern tribes were carted away never to return as a people of God.  The southern tribes also were conquered, the city of Jerusalem with its marvelous temple totally destroyed, and many of the leaders and more accomplished citizens forced to endure a decades-long exile in a foreign land. 

Isaiah had the grim task of telling the people of Israel what was coming to them for their rebellion against God and their idolatry in spite of His faithfulness.  At the same time, God gave Isaiah some good news to tell, and that good news is a special joy to us as we close out the Church year.  All year long, we have heard of God’s faithfulness in spite of our rebellion and sins.  We listened as the law told us how to live, knowing that we fail often.  Yet, throughout the year, we also heard of God’s love and mercy, of His desire to save all people including you and me, and the kindness He has shown to us by working faith in our hearts through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament.  We have said good-bye to some friends called out of this troubled world, celebrated a new marriage, and welcomed new life into our midst, especially today, as we welcome a new child of faith through the grace of baptism.

As is every year, it has been eventful.  So, what’s next?  The Lord of all Creation declares, “Watch this!  I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  Actually, God has been creating that place of peace all along, but we have to wait to see it.  There are many people who would take this text and say it points to a new Jerusalem on earth.  They might even suggest that it refers to some triumphant event in the state of today’s Israel.  Remember, however, that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36), so what the Lord talks about here is His heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of grace, and especially that home where we will live with Him forever.

Jesus told His disciples, “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)  Then, Jesus walked boldly into Jerusalem to face the hostile crowds, the Jewish leaders who hated Him, the Romans who didn’t care one way or the other but enjoyed destroying His flesh, and God’s righteous anger for the sins of all people.  By taking up the sins of the world and counting them as His own, Jesus bore the full punishment of His Father’s just wrath for sin.  With His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus prepared a place for you in the mansions of the new heavens God prophesied here through Isaiah, and Jesus threw open the gates of heaven as He crushed the devil’s head.

Quite often in our times, a grieving person will be heard to say, “My loved one is now watching me from heaven, and I know he or she will take care of me.”  That, however, is nothing but sentimental nonsense, for the Lord promised that in that new heavenly home, “The former things will not be remembered.  They will not come to mind.”  Now, those triumphant saints don’t forget us or the love they shared.  However, they rest secure in the peace of heaven with their labors completed and with the sure knowledge that God is taking care of His people, here, and keeping them in true faith so that the elect who walk with Christ will be carried home to enjoy the peace of God with all the saints.

No one living in the presence of the Almighty will be worried or concerned about life down here on earth.  This world has precious little to offer but trouble and pain.  Heaven has none of that, and those who have been graciously taken there will forever be enjoying the peace and complete knowledge of God’s love without interruption or distraction.  They won’t be concerned about what is going on here on earth, because there, completely transformed, they will at last have with perfect knowledge of God’s gracious care, but no worry, trouble, sorrow, grief, or pain will ever trouble them again.

Yet, as we walk through the troubled land of earth, and even as we face the hardships and trials of life in a broken world, God has a message for us: “Instead, rejoice and celebrate forever, because of what I am creating.  Watch this!  I am about to create Jerusalem to be a source of gladness, and her people will be a source of joy.”  Instead of focusing on the trials we must undergo, and the persecutions of those who hate our Savior, God wants us to focus on the plans He has for us.  The name, Jerusalem, means, “possession of peace.”  So when the Lord promises to create a new Jerusalem, He isn’t talking about remodeling that stony, ruined hill in Israel.  Instead, this is a foretaste of our everlasting home, a possession of peace where we will live with our God forever.

There is an old song that says, “In heaven, there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here.”  Now, I don’t actually know if there will be beer in heaven, nor do I much care, because in heaven there will never again be any need to dull our senses to the pains and trials of life on earth.  In heaven, we will never again have to try to find something better than what we will be enjoying every moment. 

In our sinful state, here on earth, it is hard to imagine something so good that we will never get bored with it, so good that no one will ever be jealous or resentful, so peaceful that no one will ever have to deal with anger, and no one will ever again feel pain, but being forever after with our Creator and greatest Friend will be so amazing that all we will ever experience for the rest of eternity is joy and peace.

But, here is perhaps the best news of all: the God who brings terror to so many people, the God we tremble before in fear when we sin, the God who says, I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Deuteronomy 5:9) promises, “I also will be glad because of Jerusalem, and I will rejoice over my people.  The sound of weeping will not be heard in her again, nor will the sound of crying.”

Dear friends, this is the most comforting news any persecuted soul could ever hope to hear—God wins perfect peace with His people, and He will rejoice in their salvation.  If you notice, there are no commands in this section of scripture telling what we must do to appease God.  Rather, it all reminds His people of what God was and is doing to bring us into peace with him.  God glorifies Himself as our redemption is accomplished through the Son, Jesus Christ.  Everything we have been studying up until today leads us to this moment, that God through His Son is working out our salvation and eternal life, and God alone is bringing that peace to us through His gospel in Word and Sacrament. 

This morning, we witnessed a baptism.  With those precious words and a few handfuls of water, God drowned on old sinful man and raised up a new life of faith.  It looks rather ordinary to unbelieving eyes, but God worked a miracle there, a child claimed for the kingdom of heaven.  A child given peace and forgiveness and the holiness of his divine Brother who gave His life for all.

Jesus once told those gathered around Him, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10)  Did we rejoice enough this morning?  Did you give thanks today for the baptism that made you a child of God?  Some days, we forget to thank God for what we have been given.  But, do you know who never forgets?  That would be God our Savior, who never forgets those whom He has chosen.  In fact, just a couple Sundays ago, we heard the Lord declare, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)  God wrote His love for us in the palms of His hands when Jesus was nailed to the cross on a hill.  And for the sacrifice Jesus made, His Father has declared, “They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:34)

The last Sunday of the Church year stands for the future yet to come.  In that glorious forever, there will never again be any suffering, sorrow, pain, or death, for sin will be no more, the devil and his followers will be forever locked away in torment, and those people who refused God’s mercy won’t be anywhere near to hurt, or harm, or mock, or in any way disrupt the joy and peace of being with our God and Savior.

Dear friends, the peace of God, won for you at the cost of His Son, brings you an everlasting home in heaven that cannot be adequately described here on earth.  Yet, God tells us of His love and mercy in words that give us certain hope of everlasting glory.  In our gospel lesson, Jesus described that day as a wedding celebration we need to be ready to enter, for the Bridegroom will come when we may least expect Him.  Hear the message of our Savior and Redeemer.  Trust the forgiveness you have in Christ.  See what God is creating for you!  Amen.

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

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Give thanks with complete trust.


Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve, November 21, 2018

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Matthew 6:25-34  25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  28 "And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Give thanks with complete trust.

Dear fellow redeemed,

            Most everyone finds it easy to give thanks when life is going smoothly and prosperity is pouring over you in a seemingly unending flow, but how does one say thanks when life isn’t so easy?  How do you say thanks when your crop came in at about half of some of your neighbors?  Or, how does someone say thanks when a roaring fire just consumed his whole town: the businesses, homes, and vehicles destroyed, and even many neighbors, or loved ones, had their lives swept away?  Have you ever pondered the question, how would we give thanks if we had just experienced a total crop failure?

The truth is, we have grown so accustomed to plenty that it likely is difficult for us to imagine having nothing.  Yet, what might seem impossible is known to happen around the world.  An article hit the news just a couple days ago that pointed out that to be richer than 50% of all other people in the world, you need a net worth of just $4,210.  That seems like a shockingly low amount of money, but it is shocking to us, mostly, because we don’t always recognize how good we have it.

Does that mean we should be ashamed?  No, I am not saying that at all.  What I find interesting, however, is another article I just read that claimed that groups of people are happier, even when very poor, as long as everyone is poor.  That article claimed that if even just a few people had much more than the average, then everyone, rich and poor alike, was less happy.  To me that seemed a bit insane, until I realized that our sinful human nature would naturally expect that if someone else has it good, we think we should have it too.  It is the affliction of coveting.  Jesus’ subject in our text was worry.  In reality, though, all worry is fueled by sins of covetousness, jealousy, over-large egos, and especially, a lack of faith in the One true God.

What all of this adds up to is that fallen human beings don’t always properly appreciate what God has done for us all.  However, Jesus taught us how we should live, and how we should appreciate our Creator.  His words, here, teach us to Give thanks with complete trust.

Regarding their worrying, Jesus told His followers to look around at the natural world.  Now, I would ask you, when was the last time you paused to appreciate the beauty of the earth?  And when you did so, did you also appreciate that the Lord God, who put all that beauty around us, is also doing everything necessary for our earthly welfare and eternal happiness?

If that thought leaves a question in your mind, then answer this, when was the last time you had to make water?  Not just purify it, or did a well to find it, but bring it into existence?  Or when did you make the air we breathe?  Or a planet to walk on?  Of course, none of us ever made any of those things.  God made it all—for us!  When Jesus pointed to the birds of the air and the plants of the field, He was reminding us that those things live because of the providence of God—and so do we.  So, if God made you (and we believe that is true), and He has given you everything you need for body and life (which our confessions state), what makes you think that God will stop doing so? (Which is what worry says.)

Okay, enough of this diatribe.  We are talking about giving thanks, right?  So, how do we give thanks to God no matter our circumstances?  The answer is found in Jesus’ question to the worriers: “Are you not much more valuable than they?”  We all need to see that we are exceedingly valuable to our Creator—so valuable, so precious to Him, that He made this world for our good.  He keeps it going and working so that we can live.  And when even that didn’t satisfy us, God sent His Son to live and die so that our sins wouldn’t interfere with the relationship God desires to have with us forever. 

In His letter to the Roman congregation, St. Paul wrote, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)  Therefore, if God loves us so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for us, what do we need that He would not, also, willingly continue to provide for us in this life, and why would He not take us home to heaven should we die?

Dear friends, in all of this, the point is that worrying is foolish because it takes our eyes off of the love of God.  How can we give thanks even in hardship, trial, or loss?  We Give thanks with complete trust that God knows what He is doing, that He has the best plan for us, and that whether we have good times or sorrows, riches or poverty, we have an eternal reward waiting for us in heaven, because of Jesus.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)  How could Paul, while writing from a harsh Roman prison cell, have such contentment in spite of all the hardships he had to face?  The answer: he kept his eyes on Jesus.

All around us, people are frantically trying to get richer, smarter, more powerful, or better connected.  Much of our world is driven by greed and covetousness and hate.  But, you and I have it all—everything we need whether God blesses us with riches or poverty.  We have Jesus.  And, Jesus gives us everything.  He gave His life-long effort so that the Father could count us holy.  He gave His body for the punishment of our guilt.  He gave His blood as the sacrifice that covers our sins.  He sends His Holy Spirit to give us faith that brings us life everlasting in His Father’s house.  And every day, God continues to give us air to breath, water to drink, food to eat, a place to sleep, ground to walk on, government to help (however good or poor that might be), and never once does God take a day off from providing everything we need for body and soul.

As we look around this room, at the town around us, and the world in which we live, we can surely find many who have more stuff than we have, and many others who have much less.  We could hang our heads in shame that we are rich compared to some, or we could look with envy at others who have more, but neither of these options compares to simply seeing all that the Lord has done for us, and still does every day, and then recognize with grateful hearts that the Lord of heaven will never stop doing that for us no matter what happens here on earth.

Today, we celebrate, as a nation, a day of thanksgiving to the Lord.  I suppose not everyone will give thanks to the One True God, but by God’s grace, we will.  You see, God gave us the gift of citizenship in His heavenly kingdom.  By grace, He adopted us into His everlasting family through baptism.  God worked the faith in us that believes Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that we are forgiven and have everlasting peace with God, who also gives us everything we need for our days here on earth and our eternal lives in His mansions above.  And all God asks of us in return is that we trust Him like infants trust their parents—that we look to our God with complete faith that He will take care of us in any circumstance, and that He will carry us with Him wherever He wants us to go.

Dear friends, the encouragement that Jesus gives in this text is that for the rest of your days, you can throw away all worry, fear, or doubt, and simply live in thankful trust that your Father in heaven has your welfare well in hand for your eternal good.  To the Lord your God, your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, Give thanks with complete trust.  Amen.