Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Let Justice Roll Down - November 12, 2017 - Twenty-third Sun. after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: Amos 5:18-24
Today is the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Today is also the third to the last Sunday of the Church Year. In three weeks this Church Year will end and we will begin a new Church Year. As is the case every year as we reach the end of the year, our Scripture lessons point us to the end times. Our Scripture readings remind us that Jesus is coming again and that we need to be ready. This fact also reminds us that every day we live we move one day closer to the Lord’s return, or, as I have often reminded you, even if the Lord does not return during our life, we will go to Him and we do not know the day or the hour that will happen either, so either way, we need to be ready! It will happen, we will meet the Lord and we need to be ready.
In our text for today, Amos brings word to the children of Israel concerning the day of the Lord, that is, the day of the Lord for Israel. There were those among the Children of Israel who were looking for the day the Lord would return, not that He would return as a spiritual Savior, but that He would return to overthrow their captors and make them their own nation again. They thought it was their birthright that would bring them this earthly salvation, in other words they believed that God’s promise had nothing to do with their faith, only with their being born as children of Israel. So they believed that the day the Lord would come would be the day the Lord would judge those who were not from the children of Israel, condemning them and saving those who were born as Israelites.
So, they called on the Lord to deliver them from the nations. Notice that their hope was not in the One the Lord promised to send. Their hope was not in the promised Savior, the promised Messiah, rather their hope was in themselves. Their hope was not in forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but in an earthly kingdom. Their hope was in what they believed to be their birthright. Their hope was in their being children of Israel. And so, in this hope, they called on the Lord to deliver them. They called on the Lord to come and judge their enemies.
The Lord’s response to their call for judgement came though Amos. Through Amos the Lord reminded them that they really were not His people because of their lack of faith. Certainly there were those who exemplified an outward show of faith, that is they went through the motions, offering sacrifices, burnt offerings and the like, but their hearts were far from the Lord. The Lord was more interested in their having hearts of faith than in their outward show of following ceremonial rites.
And so, through the prophet Amos, the Lord proclaims that the day of the Lord would come and it would bring judgement and not necessarily the kind the people would be looking for. The judgement would be on those faithless Israelites.
Fast forward to today, November 12, 2017. We are looking forward to the Day of the Lord, that is we are looking forward to the day the Lord will return, the day of judgement. We know the Lord will return. Jesus fulfilled God’s first promise to come to earth. He fulfilled that promise by being born as a baby in Bethlehem. He fulfilled all God’s promises concerning the Savior He would send. He fulfilled all God’s law perfectly. He took the sins of all people, including our sins, our sins of omission, failing to do what God would have us to do and our sins of commission, doing those things God commands us not to do, He took all our sins upon Himself. He paid the price, He suffered the eternal death penalty for us and He died on the cross. Yet, death and the grave had no power over Him as He rose on the third day.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, from where He descended to come to earth, He promised He would return on the day of judgement. We know, we believe, we have confidence that as He kept His first promise to come and take care of our sins, so He will keep this promise and He will return on the last day, on the day of judgement to take us and all believers to heaven.
As Christians, then, we look forward, in faith to that day of judgement. Or, as we have been saying, we can look forward to our own passing because we do not need to fear either. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us, we do not need to fear either our own death or the Lord’s return.
However, for those who do not believe, they do not look forward either to their own passing or to the Lord’s return, rather they show their unbelief in believing the Lord will not return. They show their unbelief in not being ready.
The fact is, the truth is, ready or not, the day of the Lord will bring judgement. Just as Jesus first coming brought judgement even to many of the children of Israel, especially to those who failed to look for a spiritual Savior, so Jesus second coming will bring judgement for those who fail to believe in Jesus as Savior. For those who do not believe they will receive eternal spiritual death in hell. For those who do believe they, we, you and I will receive eternal life in heaven.
What Does This Mean? First and foremost, our text for this morning, all our lessons for today, our lessons for the next three weeks will remind us that we will meet the Lord. We will meet the Lord, either at our own passing or at His return. We will meet the Lord, it will happen, and I would suggest that it will happen sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. Thus, it is important, it is imperative that we are ready.
Our text for this morning reminds us that our salvation is not determined by a birthright. Just as being born as a child of Israel did not and still today does not save a person, so we are not saved simply because we are born from a certain line of descent. Being born of Christian parents will not save us. Having our name on a church membership list will not save us, nor will simply being in church on any number of Sundays.
Our text for this morning reminds us that the Lord takes no delight in outward religion. Being a good person is good, but it will not save anyone. Doing good things is good, but it will not save you. Trying not to sin, trying to be like a saint or even to be like Jesus, all these are admirable, but they will save no one.
The Lord’s desire is to have us, to have all of us, our heart, mind, body, soul and spirit. As we learned in the close of the commandments, God is a jealous God that is He demands that we worship Him and Him alone, that we have no other God’s before Him. God does not want us just on Sunday mornings. He does want us on Sunday mornings, but not just on Sunday mornings. He does not want us just to be in divine service with our minds wondering elsewhere, He want us to be in divine service engaged in listening and in being given the gifts He has to give. God does not want us just to have our names on a membership list of some congregation, He wants us, heart, mind, body, soul and spirit. It is only as He has us, all of us that all these other things will happen.
Actually, we might well say, God does not want anything from us, at least as if we are giving something to Him thinking that He is in need of something from us. God does not need anything from us as if we have anything to offer that He does not have already. God want us, all of us. And unless the Lord has us, we are not saved.
Thanks be to God that He covers us on this as well. It is the Lord who calls us to faith, who gives us faith, who gives us forgiveness of sins, forgiveness earned for us by His Son. He gives us life, and He gets us ready. He does this through the very means He has given us to get us ready, His means of grace. I cannot stress this enough, it is only as we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace that our Lord comes to us to get us ready and to keep us ready, to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
This morning we are reminded once again, as we will be reminded again next week and week after, that we are to be always ready and watchful. Jesus’ story of the ten virgins in our Gospel reading are His Words of encouragement to us to be watchful and to be ready. We do not know when the Lord will return. We do not know when our last hour on this earth will be and when we will pass on and go to Him. All we really know is that it will happen. And as I have said before it will happen sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine.
Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson are words of encouragement as well. Paul’s words give us hope, that is a certainty concerning our eternal life. For, even if we pass on before the Lord returns, we need to be ready. And should we be alive when the Lord returns, we should be ready. There is salvation to all those who believe, but only to those who believe, that is only to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior. We have this hope, we have this confidence and Paul urges us to encourage one another with these words.
To summarize our reading for this morning, these are the Lord’s Words. The Lord, through the prophet Amos warns the children of Israel and us for that matter, that His desire is faith and faithfulness not simply an appearance of faith through hypocritical worship. The Lord’s Words, especially to us, are that we are not saved simply because we have our names on a church membership role, nor because we are born of Christian parents of a certain family line, God’s desire is not that we simply attend divine service, in a thoughtless manner, rather His desire is that we, with our whole selves and our whole being engage in divine service, being given the gifts God has to give and responding in faith and living lives as priest in the priesthood of all believers, living lives as a living sacrifice to the Lord. God has given His all for us in the death of Jesus for us for the forgiveness of our sins so that we might have eternal life. In response, God wants us, all of us. My prayer is that the Lord will accomplish His desire. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, November 5, 2017
Washed in the Blood of the Lamb - November 5, 2017 - All Saints’ Day (Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost) - Text: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17
Although today is the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, because All Saints Day was actually last Wednesday, this morning we take the time to celebrate All Saints Day. Please understand that when we celebrate all saints day, we are not worshiping, nor praising all the saints who have gone on before us, instead we are placing their lives before us as examples of how we are to live our lives, that is that we are to live lives of faith so that others see our faith and give praise to God for our faith as well. Remember, as Lutherans we understand that we are at the same time sinners and saints. By faith in Jesus Christ, faith given to us at our Baptism or faith given to us through the Word of God, we are redeemed, we have been purchased, we are saved, yes, we are saints. At the same time, while we remain on this earth we continue to sin and so we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Thus we understand, we believe, teach and confess that we are at the same time sinner saints.
As we celebrate All Saints day, this morning we continue from last week, our look into heaven, that is we continue in the book of Revelation. Revelation is a look into heaven and a look into what our last days on earth and our first days in heaven will be like. As we look into heaven we see, again, the enumerable number of people in heaven. We see them wearing white robes and holding palm branches. We hear them sing. We see how, even John, is unable to answer the question from God concerning what he is seeing, so he refers the question back to God answering, “Sir, you know.” John’s answer reminds us that we do not need to know all the answers to all the questions about the Bible, rather we need to realize that God is so much bigger than we are and He does know all the answers. Which in turn encourages us to continue steadfast in the Apostles’ Doctrine to learn more about Him and be strengthened in our faith.
Our text begins with John telling us that he sees “a great multitude that no one could number.” These words remind us that the reference to 144,000 which is the number Revelation speaks about being the number in heaven, this number is not a counting figure, not an actual number one can count, but it is a symbolic figure. In this reference we have 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, meaning this is in reference to the complete number of Old Testament believers. However, we may also notice that not all the tribes of Israel are included in this numbering. In the New Testament we are reminded that all who believe in Jesus are indeed children of Abraham and are a part of the new, heavenly Israel. Thus, we might best understand this 144,000 as the complete number of Old and New Testament believers in the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, that is believers in Jesus. What John is seeing is a great multitude, all believers who ever lived, from Old and New Testament times. Everyone who believes in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is included in the great multitude, and in the 144,000. We, you and I, are included in that 144,000.
Their song, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v. 10b) reminds us that salvation is given by God to those who believe. Notice who is doing what? Salvation is not something we get, in other words we do not “get saved”. Salvation is not something we earn, there is no price we could pay to earn it, as a matter of fact we might reminder ourselves that the wages of sin is death so that the price for sin is human death. Salvation is not something we claim for ourselves, as if our making such a claim would actually make it ours. Salvation belongs to God. Our salvation was earned by Him and it is given out by Him to us. It is given by His grace through faith in Jesus. God is the one doing the doing and we are the ones being done to. God is the one giving the faith and we are the ones being given to.
The song of the great multitude is followed by a song by the angels, elders and four living creatures, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (v. 12). We are told that “they fell down on their faces before the throne.” They fell down in fear, in awe and in respect. They fell down in worship. In the Old Testament we are often told of people falling prostrate before the Lord, or a king or whoever. To fall prostrate means to fall on your face, completely flat, face down on the ground. This is a posture of complete submission. Thus, even the angels, elders and four living creatures recognize Jesus as Lord and fall down in complete submission to Him.
They worshiped and said “Amen!” They spoke the word which reminds us that God is faithful. In His faithfulness He remembered His promise to send a Savior, Christ the Lord. In His faithfulness Jesus was born as a baby, a human being, as one of us. In His faithfulness Jesus lived a perfect life. He obeyed all God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all God’s commands, perfectly. In His faithfulness He lived His life for us, as our substitute. In His faithfulness Jesus took all our sins upon Himself. In His faithfulness Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross, suffering the price for our sins. In His faithfulness Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, to give us faith, and to keep us in faith until He comes again.
They sing a sevenfold song of praise. This sevenfold song is very similar to their previous sevenfold chorus of praise and it is a song of complete praise.
John is then questioned by one of the elders. The elder asks, “These in the white robes—who are they, and where did they come from”(v. 12-17)? John rightly answers, “Sir, you know.” John does not know and so he turns the question back to the man who asked so that he might get an answer. The answer is that they are those who have suffered for their faith. The word that is used for tribulation is the same word that Jesus used when He said that we would have trouble in this world, but we are to take heart, because He has overcome the world. This trouble, this tribulation that we suffer is not some new thousand year reign of trouble as some would suppose. No, this tribulation is what we have suffered since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. To be a Christian means that you inevitably suffer trials and tribulations.
You might think of it this way, the devil does not spend time working on those he already has. He spends his time working on those he does not have. Which means that if you are not having troubles in this world, if you are not having tribulation, if you are not suffering from the trials and tribulations of the devil you might want to take a hard look at yourself to make sure that he does not have you already [smile :)]. And this does not mean the troubles, the trials and tribulations we bring on ourselves, which we do because of our sinful nature. Indeed, a part of our sinner nature is that we do sin and bring trouble on ourselves. We constantly break all the commandments and most our favorite, the one about bear false witness against our neighbor. Perhaps if we might constantly remind ourselves that God is with us so that He sees all we do and hears all we say, maybe we might check our lives, our thoughts, our words and our actions a little better.
Moving on, the elder continues by saying that these are they who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” It is faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, the shedding of His blood that brings the white robes of righteousness. By faith in Jesus, we stand before God in His perfection, washed in His blood, robed in His white robes of righteousness.
“Therefore,” the elder says, meaning, as a result of Jesus’ redeeming work, because Jesus shed His blood on the cross, by faith in Him, faith given by God, therefore, salvation comes to those who believe. The perfect bliss of the redeemed people of God is described in the next series of ten statements. Remember too, that the number ten is the number of completeness and so we are reminded by these ten statements that there is complete release from all evil and complete fullness of joy which is ours, given to us by God.
The first three lines describe the blessedness of the redeemed who stand in the presence of God spending their days and nights in service to Him. Their service is a worship service, a time spent in praise and adoration to Jesus. While we are on earth it is most important and necessary that we come to the Lord’s House, to divine service first and foremost to be given to by God. It is only as we are given to by God that we can respond with lives of faith. In heaven we will be perfected and so we will be able to offer a service of worship, worthy of our Creator God.
The next four lines speak about the freedom we Christians will have in heaven from the effects of sin. The curse which was placed on all creation in the Garden of Eden is now broken. In heaven there is no hunger, no thirst, no being beaten down by the sun. In heaven there is no sorrow or sadness, only joy and rejoicing. In heaven we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forever.
The final three lines describe heaven in positive terms. We are reminded first that Jesus is the Good Shepherd as John reminds us in His Gospel. Jesus compares us to His sheep and He is our Shepherd. He leads us beside the quiet waters as we read in the Psalms. Jesus is the living water. We are Baptized into faith through water. We need water to live. Jesus is that living water for us. And with God there will be no suffering, no more tears. Heaven is a place of complete and unending joy.
This morning we get another glimpse of heaven. We are reminded that heaven is a gift, given by God, earned by Jesus’ death on the cross and the shedding of His blood. We are reminded that heaven is a place of forever joy. And we are reminded that heaven is a place of forever worship.
The question we might ask ourselves this week is “are we ready?” If you ask young people “are you ready to go to heaven?” Many times you will get the answer, “Yes, I am ready, but I would rather grow up before I go.” How often do we find ourselves answering in like manner. “I think I am ready for Jesus to come again, but I would rather get done doing the things I think I need to do here on earth.” I think that begs the question even more. Are we ready? Are we ready if we believe that there is more for us to do on this earth than to get ourselves ready for Jesus’ to come? Or to get ourselves ready for our going to Him, which might be sooner than His coming to us. And maybe we need to spend time getting others ready as well. I wonder if we are ready as we continue to keep our focus on the things of this world instead of on things heavenward.
How do we get ourselves ready? We get ourselves ready by making regular and diligent use of those means through which our Lord gives to us and uses to get us ready, His means of grace. In other words, it is not so much we who get ourselves ready, but it is the Lord who gets us ready. He gets us ready by our remembering our Baptism. He gets us ready by our confessing our sins and hearing His most beautify words of forgiveness. He gets us ready by our reading His Word, by our having personal and family devotions, by our being in divine service and Bible Class. He gets us ready as we come to His table, where He is the host and the meal, where He offers and gives to us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins and for strengthening of faith.
I know I have shared this antidote with you before, but it bears repeating. When I was attending the Seminary, one of my classes followed chapel. Every morning we had chapel at 9 a.m. It was a short service in which we heard the Word of God and sang some hymns. Our professor noticed that some of the men from our class were not making it to chapel, but were missing for some reason. He chastened us one morning by using the following words, “Gentlemen, receive the gifts.” So, too, I come to you and as I come to you I ask you to share these words with those who are not here. Ladies and gentlemen, receive the gifts. Because it is only through the gifts God gives, the gifts of His Word and Sacraments that He gives us forgiveness and that He can prepare us for Jesus’ coming and/or our going to Him. And now more than ever is the time to be prepared. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Truth and Freedom - October 29, 2017 - Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost/Reformation Sunday - Text: Revelation 14:6-7
October 31, 1517 marked a day in infamy. October 31, 2017 continues to mark the struggle. Around 6 to 8000 years ago Lucifer, the light-bearer, approached an innocent, naive perfect Eve and Adam and asked a question, “Did God really say?” Of course, his question was not so much a question as a challenge. His challenge was a challenge to God, to challenge God’s Word, as well as the authority of God. Did God really say whatever it was He said and did He mean it?
About six hundred years ago a man name Jan Hus questioned whether or not the Pope, or any human being for that matter had the authority to speak for, in the place of, or above God. In particular Jan Hus questioned the leader of what was the church at the time. He questioned the Pope, the seeming vicar of God on earth. He also questioned human councils that had declared certain teachings the Word of God, even though they were not the Word of God, but were rather the word of humans, fallible humans at that.
Five hundred years ago a man named Martin Luther questioned the authority of man over against the authority of the Word of God. As Luther so well pointed out, Councils and Popes have long contradicted themselves and have been know to be wrong. Now please understand, neither Jan Hus nor Luther questioned God as Satan did. No, Jan Hus and Martin Luther questioned the words of fallible human beings who attempted to speak in the place of God and as they so well pointed out, human beings who often spoke incorrectly.
Today we continue to hear similar such questions. We hear questions challenging the Word of God as truth and as authority. We hear questions such as: “Did God really mean . . . ?” “God did not know about such things as ‘committed homosexual relationships’?” “Are you sure your are interpreting the Bible correctly?” “Who gives you the right to speak for God?” “Truth is relative.” “There are no absolutes.” “My God is not like that.” And on and on it goes as the Word of God and the authority of the Word of God is questioned still today. But it is no wonder; when you have a good thing that works, keep doing it. The devil is in the details and the details continue to question God, His Word and His authority.
At one time it seemed as if it was the world against the church and one knew who their enemies were. Now the devil is attacking the church not just from without, but within as well. Churches today are tempted to question the Word of God and His authority by seeking to be relevant, by seeking to be tolerant, by seeking to be contemporary, which means for the time as in here today and gone tomorrow, by seeking to be fun, entertaining, engaging and just about any other adjective you might think to use, rather than simply seeking to be faithful. When the church agrees with and looks like the culture is it really any different than the culture? And we know the devil thrives in the culture which acquiesces to the morals and values of the least of them.
Our text for today points us were we need to be pointed, to Jesus. Our text assures us of the authority of the Word of God, especially over and above the word of fallible human beings. Our text begins at verse six. We read, “6Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (v. 6). Now, we must remember, first and foremost that the book of Revelation is a vision and it is a vision of things to come. Certainly you have heard some interesting interpretations of this book including those that would assign certain parts of the vision to various modern day countries and people. Our best and surest understanding of this book is to let Scripture interpret Scripture, to let the Lord speak for Himself, and to hear and believe the words as given, not adding to nor taking away. As our first verse tells us, in this vision John saw an angel with the eternal Gospel and this eternal Gospel is to be proclaimed to all the earth, to every nation, tribe, language and people.
What is this Gospel, this eternal Gospel? This Gospel is the truth of Holy Scripture and we would say the authority of Holy Scripture. The truth of Holy Scripture is the truth of Jesus, the truth of the exclusive claim of the Christian Church and why the Christian Church is so hated by the rest of the world, that is that Jesus is the way, only Way, the only Truth, the only Life, that it is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone that one has forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is the Gospel message, this is the heart of Holy Scripture, this is the key to eternal life, this message is the eternal Gospel.
This Gospel is a message that is eternal, it has no beginning and no end, like the Savior it presents. People may come and go, nations may rise and fall, religions, cults and sects may come and go, but God’s Word is eternal, it will remain even through times of struggle. Not only is God’s Word eternal it is also true. As we just said, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth. Why do the generations of this world have such a hard time with truth? Because apart from Jesus it cannot know truth. Apart from Jesus there is no truth. Jesus is truth and all truth comes from and through Him. And we may add one more truth about the eternal Gospel that is that it does what it says, that is we say it is efficacious, it effects what it says. The power of God’s Word is that it does what it says. And because it does what it says we know it has all authority. When God’s Word says we have faith, we have faith. When God’s Word says we have forgiveness, we have forgiveness. Whatever God’s Word says we know it is true and it will happen according to what God says in His Word. God’s Word promises that the Gospel is eternal. Siegbert Becker in his commentary on Revelation says, “It is perfectly proper, then, to see one fulfillment of that promise in the Lutheran Reformation which is history’s most prominent illustration of the principle that God will not allow his word to be silenced. But we may also see an illustration of this truth in every other historical movement in which the gospel has been clearly and emphatically proclaimed. The vision simply assures us that false teachers will never silence the preaching of the gospel.”
Many Lutheran Commentators have identified this angel as Dr. Martin Luther as he stood firm in the fight for the truth and the authority of the Gospel in his day in the midst of those who threatened his life for such preaching. He testified that the faith of the Christian should rest, not in the word of the Pope, or any man for that matter, but in the Word of Scripture alone.
Moving on to verse seven of our text we read, “7And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (v. 7). These are the words of the angel given to the angel by God to proclaim. Remember, angels are messengers sent by God to do His bidding. They do not proclaim their own words but the words of Him who sent them.
The angel says to fear God. As we memorized and as we were taught, especially in the explanations for the Ten Commandments, we are to fear and love God. To fear God means two things. We are to fear God, that is we are to be afraid of God, when we are in our sin. God’s wrath is indeed harsh as we see Him take out His wrath on Jesus on the cross, punishing Him for our sin. So, when we are in our sin we are to be afraid, because left in our sin we would be eternally condemned. Yet, fear has a second meaning. We are to fear God that is we are to love and respect Him. As Christians we fear God, that is we love and respect Him and we give Him glory because of His Words of Gospel which give us faith, forgiveness and life. By faith in Jesus we fear, love and trust in God above all things.
Finally, the angel encourages us to worship, kneel before, and acknowledge the Lord as Creator God. While this may sound easy enough, the difficulties of this in our modern society are great indeed. The teaching of Darwinism, the teaching of humanism, the teaching of may other isms, the temptations of sin and unbelief, the struggle to fight against our very nature, that is that we are conceived and born in sin, that every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, make it difficult to fear God and give Him glory, to worship, kneel before and acknowledge Him as the Lord, Creator God. We see how difficult this is as we see so many people in our world resist and refuse the gifts God has to give and even in our own congregation and in Christian congregations around the world as even our own members, even each one of us on a daily and weekly basis give in to temptation and sin, refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give.
So, we ask, what does this mean? Today we celebrate 500 years of the reformation of the Church, the reaffirmation of the Word of God. Today we celebrate the endurance of the Word of God, that is that His Word is eternal that it never fails, that it never departs from us. Even when we may think the Word of God is removed as through history we have seen time and again how it seems as if God’s Word were removed from or absent from one heathen nation after another, we see that God’s Word is never completely rooted out, but His Word remains forever.
Today we celebrate the truth of the authority of the Word of God, especially that it is inerrant. Certainly this is where Satan makes his greatest attacks. Well, this was his first temptation and it worked so well in the Garden of Eden that he continues to use this temptation even today. His temptation is a subtle temptation concerning the authority of God’s Word. Today we have this authority questioned as the inerrancy of the Word of God. The question of Satan in the Garden was, “Did God really say?” Today his question is, “Is the Bible God’s Word or does the Bible merely contain God’s Word?” Which is another way of saying, “Did God really say?” To suggest that the Bible merely contains God’s Word leaves us open to interpreting His Word our way which means all kinds of aberrations such as we see in many heterodox churches today. What does inerrancy mean? It means that we believe the Bible does not merely contain God’s Word so that we have to search through the pages to find it, but the Bible is God’s Word and it is a word with God’s authority and power. So that Bible is eternal, it is true and it does and gives what it says.
Today we celebrate the gifts given through the Word of God. Although we are conceived and born in sin, although every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, God is greater than our sin. God gives us His Word and His Sacraments and through these means of grace He gives us all His good gifts and blessings. As we remember our baptism we are reminded that it was He who, at our baptism, put His name on us and claimed us as His children. It was He who put faith in our hearts, gave us forgiveness of sins, which cost us nothing, but cost Jesus His life, He wrote our names in the book of Life. As we confess our sins we hear His most beautiful words, “Your sins are forgiven.” As we read and hear His Holy Precious Word, we are given the gifts that He gives through His Word. And as we come to His table to eat His body and drink His blood we are again given His gifts, forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. What great gifts, what wonderful gifts, who would think of refusing or rejecting such great gifts and blessings.
Today we celebrate that we respond in faith, in worship, in kneeling before and acknowledging our Creator God as Lord. Of course our response is not something that comes from inside ourselves, but is something that is motivated in us by God from outside of us. Just as we do not find the answers to life’s questions inside of us, just as we do not find life, forgiveness or faith inside ourselves, so we are not motivated by ourselves. We are given all these things and our response of faith from God who comes to us from outside of us, who comes to us through means the very means He gives us to come to us.
And so, today we celebrate. We celebrate the reformation of the Holy Christian Church. We celebrate the work of Dr. Martin Luther and God’s work through him. We celebrate the gift of God’s Word, His eternal Word, His eternal Word made flesh in Jesus, and His Word of Holy Scripture which does and gives what it says. We celebrate what a great and awesome God we have, a God who does all and gives all. And so, I leave you will the words of the angel of the Lord, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (v. 7b). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
The Lord Will Prepare a Feast - October 15, 2017 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Isaiah 25:6-9
Have you ever noticed how true it is that “time flies when you’re having fun?” The church year is winding down. Advent is fast approaching. We have not yet celebrated Reformation Day and this year it is the big one, the 500th anniversary of the reformation. We have not yet celebrated Thanksgiving Day and the stores are already being decorated for Christmas. Our text for today is one which reminds us that there is a reason for our lives and that our lives are not just “here today and gone tomorrow.” As Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ, we live our lives looking forward to tomorrow, especially the tomorrow of heaven where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forevermore. Our text for today gives us a picture of the eternal feast with the Lord, a heavenly banquet.
Our text begins with a partial description of the banquet of heaven. We begin at verse six, “6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (v. 6). The mountain on which the Lord Almighty will prepare His feast is heaven. In the Bible, heaven is often depicted as a mountain, high above the earth, where the Lord reigns and watches over us.
To help us get a better idea of what will be served at this feast, I want to read verse six from the Revised Standard Version. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.” From the Revised Standard Version we see that fat and cholesterol will apparently not be a concern on this mountain, at this feast, in heaven. This feast will consisted of the richest of foods, the fat things. The best, prime cuts of meat are those with lots of fat called marbling which makes the meat tender and good to eat. It is from the richness of the marrow that our blood cells get their start. The rich bone marrow is what builds and sustains life. And there will be the best wine. “Wine on the lees,” was that wine that was at the bottom of the barrel. When it was strained, it was the strongest, clearest, and most flavorful. What an awesome feast the Lord has prepared for us. Well, what should we expect at a banquet the Lord is giving, only the best!
This is a banquet given by the Lord. This banquet shows us that the Lord always gives the best. Usually these best parts, these fat parts were saved and sacrificed to the Lord. But, here at His banquet, He gives the best, the best parts, the fat parts, for us to eat. He gives the best wine, the strongest, the clearest, the most flavorful, for us to drink. It is interesting, we may talk about what we give to the Lord, we may think well of ourselves that we give our first fruits, our tithes and our offerings, and even what we may believe to be our best to God, but when we think about it and admit it, it is God who is always giving His best to us. And it is God who always gives first.
Our text continues with more of God’s giving. Picking up at verse seven we read, “7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations” (v. 7). The word that is translated as “covering” is literally, “the covering of the face” which comes from the word for secrecy. And the word “veil” literally comes over into the English as “mask.”
The shroud, as some translations give us this word, was used to cover the face of a person who had died. Truthfully we should admit that the shroud was used not so much to cover the face of the dead person, so much as it was used to cover the face so as to hide us from death. We do not like to see death. We do not like to talk about death. Death reminds us of our sin, perhaps that is why so many churches only talk about a theology of glory, only talk about what good Christians they can be, how God wants them to be well off and so forth. Not too many people want to talk about a theology of the cross, that is about death and especially about Jesus’ death because that reminds us that it was because of us, because of our sins that Jesus had to die, that death is in the world. So, how do you keep from seeing death? You cover the face of death.
This is also the shroud that hides God. This is the shroud of sin and unbelief. Sin separates us from God. While we are in our sin we do not want to be seen by God. Why do we speak in secret? Why do we try to cover our sins? Why do we try to hide from God? For some reason we believe we can actually hide our sins from God as if there is someplace He cannot see or hear. When we are in unbelief we cannot see God, because of our own spiritual blindness. Fortunately for us, our Lord destroys this shroud.
This verse and the next verse serve well to remind us that the fear of death, the fear of our being eternally separated from God, is removed by Christ. The “veil that is spread over all nations” brings to mind the splitting of the curtain in the temple at Jesus’ death. It was Jesus’ death that brought us back into a right relationship with God the Father in heaven. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, before the curtain in the temple was split in two, a person could not go directly to God, but had to go through a priest, a representative of God. Now, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the way has been cleared. Now we can go directly to God and pray to Him and He will hear and answer our prayers.
The greatest victory is the swallowing of death, physical death and most especially, eternal spiritual death, hell. We pick up at verse eight, “8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (v. 8). Here we see that this banquet will be an eternal banquet, because in heaven there will be no more physical death. Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated death. The greatest victory is that death is swallowed up forever.
There will be only joy in heaven. There will be no more sorrow in heaven, for the Lord will wipe away every tear. But, not only will our tears be wiped away, so will whatever causes our tears. To wipe away a tear is one thing, but there is always the chance that some bit of sadness might bring it back. With God, He does not just tend to the symptom, He goes right to the heart of the problem. He wipes out the cause of the tear. With nothing to cause tears, sorrow will be eternally wiped away.
In heaven it will be a joy and it will not be a disgrace to be a Christian. We will not have to worry about persecution, even little persecutions, for letting our lights shine, for letting our faith show forth in our lives. Instead heaven will be a place of perfect joy and happiness.
In verse nine we hear the voice of faith “9It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (v. 9).
We are bold to say, “This is our God.” Knowing that God chose us, that He put His name on us at our baptism, that He put faith in our hearts, that He forgives our sins, that He has written our name in the book of life, that He continually strengthens our faith and keeps us in faith, that He tells us that He is our God and we are His people. Knowing all this it is easy for us, in heaven to say, “This is our God.”
We say, “we waited for Him.” Knowing that God does all things according to what He knows is best, according to His perfect knowledge and timing. Knowing that at just the right time, Christ died and rose for us, we say, “we waited for Him.”
We say, “He saved us.” Knowing that God sent His one and only Son, Jesus to be born as a human being (one of us), to live perfectly for us, in our place, to take all our sins upon Himself, to suffer and die for our sins. Knowing that it was by the blood of Jesus that all our sins have been forgiven we say, “He saved us.” We cannot and we do not save ourselves. Our salvation does not come from inside, it does not come from our works or actions. Our salvation comes from outside of us, it comes from God alone. He saved us!
We say, “Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Literally it is the Lord’s salvation. He has done everything, He has given everything and we have been given everything. Think about what we have been saying. God gave us all life at the creation of the world. Adam and Eve fell into sin, destroying the very life God gave. God gives each one of us life, personally, at our conception. God gives us new life at our baptism. God gives the world new life through the gift of the blood His one and only Son, on the cross. Now we understand that God gives us life in heaven. He prepares and invites us to His banqueting table. He is there serving us the finest and best of meats and wines. And to top it all off, He allows for us to be glad and to rejoice in His salvation.
Even our Gospel reading for this morning gives us this image of the heavenly banquet as well. In our Gospel reading we are encouraged in our faith-life, that is in the fact that it is by God’s grace, through faith that we have a share in His eternal kingdom and in His eternal banquet. God’s will is that all people are given faith, yet He knows that there are those who refuse the gifts He has to give. His gifts are given out of His grace and love for His people, yet to all those who refuse and reject the gifts He has to give, they are excluded from His gifts and His kingdom. They are cast out into the outer darkness of eternal spiritual death in hell. Jesus’ words are a stern warning to us to not refuse the good gifts and blessings He has to give, rather they are words encouraging us to make regular and diligent use, that is encouraging us to be given the gifts He has to give at every opportunity we have of being given the gifts through the means of grace, the means through which He gives us His gifts.
What a great God we have. We have a God who gives and gives and gives. He has given since the beginning of creation. He has given throughout history. He continues to give to us today. He will continue to give to us even into eternity, where He prepares, invites us to attend and serves us at His eternal banqueting table. It is the fact that we live our lives, rushing from day to day, rushing through each day, anxiously awaiting something, and all that rushing makes our lives seem like they are rushing to the end, to our physical death. And yet, as we keep our eyes focused on the end, that is on heaven, on our faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, then our days become days of declaring that the Lord “is our God, we trusted in him and he saved us . . . let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.