Welcome

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!

Disclaimer

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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Purple - Lent Mid-week 6 - March 28, 2012 - Text: Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1-5

This evening we continue looking at the symbols of Lent and Easter by looking at the symbolism of the color purple. As you can see from the paraments displayed on the altar, the pulpit and the lectern, the color associated with Lent is the color purple. Often we are reminded that the color purple is the color of passion, of penitence and repentance and so Lent is a time of repentance. Lent is the time we take the time to consider our sin and our part in Jesus having to suffer and die on the cross, our part in putting Jesus on the cross.

Purple is also the color of royalty. So, not only does purple remind us of the suffering and death of Jesus for us, but it also reminds us of the fact that Jesus is our King of Kings. Jesus is true God. He was with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the creation of the world. Before His incarnation, He was in heaven as true God enjoying all His glory.

And yet, because of His great love for us, because of our sin and need for a Savior, because He created us to love us, He gave up the glory that was His in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood. He who is God, took on human flesh in order to become one of His own creation. Jesus had to be truly God in order to be conceived and born in perfection. He had to be perfect, owning nothing in order to be able to pay the price for our sins, what we owe, our lives. And He had to be truly human in order to be our substitute, that is in order to trade His life for ours. Trading like things for like things.

Jesus, true God, gave up the glory that was His in heaven and was born as a human being, we speak of this as the incarnation, the coming in carnal, in flesh of God, in the person, the human person of Jesus. About a year or a year and a half following Jesus’ birth, while they were in a house in Bethlehem, Jesus, Mary and Joseph were visited by the Magi or wise men from the east. We are told they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Each of these gifts remind us that Jesus is our prophet, priest and king.

The gift of incense is the gift for a priest. The priest is the one who would burn the sweet smelling incense in the temple. The priest was also the one who would offer sacrifices for and on behalf of the people. And as our Great High Priest we know that Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross for us, His people. His sacrifice is still ours today.

The gift of myrrh, which is an oil especially used for the purpose of anointing, was the gift for a prophet. Jesus was and is a prophet. He was a prophet, as true God, speaking of the things that would happen, the things which He came to fulfill. Jesus was a prophet in that He was also one to proclaim the message of salvation. Even today Jesus continues to be our prophet as He continues to speak to us through His Holy Word.

The gift of gold is the gift for a King, for Royalty. Jesus is truly our Lord of Lord and King of Kings. The Magi recognized Jesus as truly a King. Jesus was born of the kingly line of David. But more than simply being an earthly king, Jesus is our heavenly King. After His ascension Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father from where He sends the Holy Spirit to work in and through us and from where He rules over us and intercedes for us.

While Jesus is our King of Kings, again, the purple reminds us of Jesus’ passion especially His passion as our Great High Priest. Jesus was conceived and born without sin. Jesus lived a perfect life, never sinning. Even through all the temptations of Satan himself, Jesus never sinned, not even once. Jesus obeyed all of God’s laws and commands perfectly, all the civil laws, all the moral laws, all the ceremonial laws. Jesus fulfilled all the promises and prophecies concerning the Messiah, perfectly. Every prophecy about the coming Messiah, every promise spoken in and since the Garden of Eden, Jesus fulfilled perfectly and completely. And then, of His own free will He took our sins, your sins and my sins and the sins of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself. He who was without sin, He who knew no sin became sin for us, in our place.

Jesus took our sins and then He suffered for our sins. Jesus suffered rejection, beating, mocking, being spit upon, and ultimately being put to death, suffering the most horrendous, the most humiliating, the worst and cruelest death, death on the cross where He was hung to die, literally hung to suffocate to death before the world. And as we made note last week, He died in all His nakedness and shame, in all our shame.

Jesus suffered in order to pay the price for sin, the price which was set in the Garden of Eden, the price of physical death and apart from Jesus and faith in Him, the price of eternal spiritual death. So, when Jesus died it was not simply a physical death that He died, but it was an eternal spiritual death, a death in hell that He died. And He died, not for nothing but for us, for you and for me, for our sin.

What does this mean? Lent is a time to remember. As we look at the symbols of Lent we are reminded of those things of which we should remember. This evening we look at the color purple and we remember. We remember Jesus royalty, that He was and is King of Kings and Lord of Lord, yet, while on this earth He did not rule in royalty because that was not His purpose for being in this world. Rather He came to take our sins and to suffer and die for us.

The purple reminds us of royalty and the fact that along with being truly human, Jesus is truly God. So, in answer to those who struggle with the fact that Jesus is God and Jesus died, yes, God died. John is quite adamant in his Revelation when He is speaking about Jesus being the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last as he says, “17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18). God, the alpha and omega, the first and the last was alive, the living one who died, in the person of Jesus, God died. And just as when we die, so our soul will separate from our bodies, so it was with Jesus, even as true God, He died and His soul separated from His body, yet we know that He also rose again. Death and the grave had no power over Him and by faith in Him they have no power over us as well.

The purple reminds us of God’s great love for us, so much that as our God He died for us. Greater love can noone have than this that one would lay down his life for another. Our God, our Creator God, our Redeemer God, our God who created us to love us showed His great love in the fact that He gave His life to redeem us, to buy us back from our sins.

So, the purple of lent also reminds us that the season of Lent is a time to confess. We are to take the time to look at ourselves, at our own lives, at our sin filled lives and recognize our part in putting Jesus on the cross. Yes, it was because of my sin and your sin, our sin that Jesus came to die on the cross. And the great thing about it is that even if we were the only person in the world, Jesus still would have died for us.

Ultimately, then, lent is a time to be loved and to be given to. God’s command is that we are perfect. Obviously we cannot meet that demand and so we run to and cling to Jesus who was perfect for us. When Jesus came He came for us, as our substitute, to be perfect for us in our place. So, now, by faith in Jesus, He has taken our sins upon Himself and we are given His forgiveness, His robes of righteousness, His life, eternal life and salvation.

Purple, the color of royalty. Purple the color of repentance. Purple the color of passion. Purple the color of Lent. Purple the color that reminds us of God’s great love for us and His continued love, care and concern for us. May the purple of lent continue to remind you of God’s great love so that you might rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Serving - March 25, 2012 - Fifth Sunday in Lent - Text: Mark 10:(32-34)35-45

Last week we heard the words which most of us have memorized from early on, the words of the Gospel in a nutshell as they have been called, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And as we heard these words we heard them in their context, that is that Nicademus had come to Jesus questioning Him about His teaching and Jesus tells him about being born again. This morning we move back into the Gospel of Mark and we hear Jesus being a bit more explicate in His speaking to His disciples concerning the events of Jerusalem which lay ahead of Him, namely His suffering and dying. And then we hear the squabbling of His disciples concerning who gets the place of honor.

Our text begins with Jesus detailing what lies ahead, “32And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise”(v. 32-34).

Jesus has been with these apostles for some time, close to three years. He has been teaching and discipling them. He has been speaking in parables and explaining the parables. He has been speaking somewhat directly and now, here, at this time as He is heading to Jerusalem He speaks plainly, not in parables, not in allusions, but plainly. He speaks concerning the events that will happen, namely that he will be “going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him” and notice He even includes how the events will turn out in the end, “and after three days he will rise.” And now, after all this they were amazed and afraid.

Jesus was going to be delivered by His own people, the Jewish nation, the leaders of the Jews, those who held high positions, the chief priests and the scribes. This nation that prided itself on taking care of its own would be actively delivering one of its own to the Roman Gentiles, the ruling political party for a judicial sentence of the death penalty.

As a part of this trial that would lay ahead, Jesus knew what was going to happen and so He outlines these events specifically for the twelve. He was going to be mocked, spit upon, flogged and killed. The response of the twelve is that they were amazed and afraid. Perhaps they did not believe Jesus. Perhaps they were afraid that if these things happened to Jesus they might happen to them as His followers. Whatever the reason, they were amazed and afraid. But that did not last long.

Continuing on in our text we read of the confusion of the Apostles, “35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (v. 35-40).

Jesus had just finished speaking about His suffering, death and resurrection and the disciples were amazed and afraid, but now their attention deficit disorder kicks in and just as quickly they change the subject so that now we hear James and John asking for places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom.

Now understand, James and John were very much like the Pharisees and teachers of the law and many in Israel, and I would suggest even many in our own world today. There were many in Israel who had come to think of God’s kingdom in terms of an earthly kingdom. When God promised a Savior back in the Garden of Eden and when He reiterated that promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and so on, the promise was never a promise of an earthly salvation and kingdom, but always a promise of spiritual salvation and an eternal kingdom in heaven.

Yet, Jesus answers the two by asking if the understand for what they are asking. Can they suffer as He is about to suffer? Their response shows their failure to understand what Jesus is saying because they respond that they believe they are able.

And so Jesus explains what it actually means to sit in the place of honor. It means, as He says, that they will suffer. So, we see that all that amazement and being afraid really was more of a confusion concerning Jesus, who He is and what He came to do.

But our text is not over. Our text continues with Jesus again, teaching, “41And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 41-45).

In response to the request of James and John, the rest of the apostles are upset, or rather as the text says, they were indignant. And they had every right to be upset, after all, they were just as equal and had just as much right as James and John for the seats of honor, at least in their own minds.

As the good teacher that He is, Jesus sits the disciples down and explains what it means to be a true ruler and a great person. To be a true ruler and a great person means not to be served, but to serve. Even as Jesus Himself came, not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for us.

What does this mean? In our world today we think in terms of human greatness; power, fame and fortune. At the same time we do have the example of our world in which we speak about people in public office being public servants, that is that our elected officials are here to serve, at least that is or always has been the intent. Yet, too often today we hear about the offices of public service being less and less about service and more and more about power, fame and fortune, much like Jesus’ disciples. Perhaps you may recall one president saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” which has been played against a recent statement made by one of the citizens of this country, “What is my country going to do for me?”

As sinful human beings, we are not much different from those who have gone on before us. We are not much different than our sinful ancestors. We too have a tendency to focus our lives on this world.

God would have us focus on the world to come. This life is short and sweet and compared to eternity, this life is but a snap of the fingers, here today and gone tomorrow. We are very much like Jesus’ disciples. We attend divine service on Sunday. We hear the law and the fact that we are sinners. We hear the Gospel and the fact that God loves us, that Jesus lived for us, that Jesus suffered and died for us. We hear the same thing the disciples heard, that Jesus was “delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they condemned him to death and delivered him over to the Gentiles. And they mocked him and spat on him, and flogged him and killed him. And after three days he rose.” And then we leave and go about our daily lives and live as if this life is all there is. We live looking for power, fame and fortune in this world. We live looking for places of honor.

God would have us think in terms of service. First and foremost He would have us think in terms of His service to us. He is the One who came, not to be served, but to give His life. He came to love us first, so that we might love others with the same love with which He has first loved us. He did not ask what we could do for Him, but He came to do for us and to give to us. And He continues even today to do for us and give to us. He comes to us to give to us and do for us through the regular means He has given, His means of grace, His Word, Confession and Absolution, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is through these very means that He comes to us to give to us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give; faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.

Yes, we do talk about the fact that Jesus came as an example, but not just as an example. If He were just an example, that would lead us to despair because we can never be like Him. He came as an example, but even more, He came to fulfill all righteousness.

Jesus gives and we are given to. Jesus runs the show and we know we have the best, we know we have all He gives, because He is the one giving and we are the one’s begin given to. Jesus has done all that needs to be done. Jesus continues to do for us as well. He has won salvation for us. He gives us salvation. And He continues to pour out on us all His good gifts and blessings.

I want to conclude with a bit of my own paraphrase of Jesus’ words to His apostles who were discussing getting to sit in the place of honor, and to us who strive for such a place in our own lives and in the world of eternal life. You know that those who are considered the best leaders in this world are not the ones who lord it over them, and attempt to exercise great authority over them. Yes, there are those types of leaders in this world, but they are not seen as great but as what they are, dictators and tyrants. And so, this type of behavior should not be so among you. Instead, if you want to be known as a great person in this world you must be a servant and be of service to others. For, whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. We have the example of Jesus Himself, the Son of Man, who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. It is Jesus who has given His all for us, who works in and through us so that we might be His people. With all humility, may God work such an attitude in and through us as a response of the faith, forgiveness and life He gives to us. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Dice - Lent Mid-week 5 - March 21, 2012 - Texts: Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24

This evening we continue to talk about the symbols of Lent and Easter. This evening we take up the topic of the dice used to divide Jesus garments at the foot of the cross. Let me begin by saying that different translations use a different word for the dice. Some say that lots were cast and others that dice were cast. Either way, the fact remains that the soldiers divided Jesus’ garments and that is the main point of the dice.

Before we talk about the dice, we should go back and think about the context and the background of these events. First, just like us, like you and me, Jesus was born with nothing. We may joke about our “birthday suit,” but the fact remains, we are born with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing. Having said that, one astute confirmand once suggested that we are born with sin, which is also correct, but I would say that is not something we would want to boast about. Now, the fact that we are born with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing could make for a great sermon on stewardship, that everything we have in this world is not really ours, but is on loan to us from God, but relax, that is not our emphasis this evening.

What Jesus “owned,” if you will, while on this earth was the clothes on His back. Now, we remember that Jesus is God, true God and so He, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit created the world out of nothing, so really, everything is Jesus anyway. But from a truly human stand point, while living in this world, on this earth, Jesus owned nothing. And having mentioned that we are born in sin, actually we are conceived and born in sin, Jesus was not conceived and born in sin. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit making Him truly God and conceived and born perfect and holy.

Interestingly enough, even though Jesus owned nothing, you may have noticed that He never concerned Himself about His physical needs. Certainly Jesus lived His life as He preached, that is that God takes care of His world and His people, including the birds of the air, the grass in the field, and us. So, even though Jesus owned nothing, except the clothes on His back and even though He owned no place to live, He was not concerned about His physical needs, because His physical needs were tended to by those He taught and discipled. Their response of faith was to care for their teacher.

So, what is it about the dice and the dividing of the clothes? First there is the implicate meaning of the dividing of these clothes, that is the very fact that Jesus’ clothes were divide among the soldiers. We are not told how many soldiers there were, nor how many pieces of clothes Jesus was wearing, simply that they divided His clothes, all except one piece of clothing.

The one piece of clothing that was not divided was the main wrap which Jesus wore. It was one large piece of material which is best owned as a whole not divide. This one main wrap was too valuable to tear apart and divide, so rather than tear it apart and divide it, it was decided to let “chance” decide who would get it. So, either translation works well, that of lots being cast or drawn or dice being cast to see who would own the large cloth, the whole undivided large piece of cloth.

So, Jesus’ clothes were divided which means that Jesus was left, as uncomfortable for us as it may be, to die naked on the cross. Jesus was left in all His shame, or rather in all our shame, having taken our sins upon Himself. Now I know that we never see a crucifix with Jesus naked on the cross, mostly because we cannot handle this fact. But the fact remains, the punishment of crucifixion was intended to be the most cruel and shameful form of punishment and so as we see Jesus’ clothes being divvied up we know that He was put to death in all His shame with our sins and all our shame.

Just as He came into this world, so Jesus was dying and leaving this world with nothing. You might remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples deserted Him. While He was on the cross He remembered His mother and gave her to John to care for her. Later Jesus cries out as God the Father forsakes Him. And now here He is friendless, motherless and fatherless and in our shame we turn our heads and leave Him as well, not wanting to look on Him.

Jesus, He who was born and lived in perfection, never sinning, not even once, freely and actively took our sins upon Himself. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He was slapped. He was beaten. He was mocked. He was spit upon. And now He has been stripped naked and nailed to a cross, the worst form of punishment. He was innocent, yet He took our sins and suffered for them, for us, in our place.

Jesus was leaving this world as He had entered, with nothing. The only difference is that He entered in perfection and now He was dying in our sins.

What does this mean? Please understand that these men were not gambling. Gambling is putting up something you have against something someone else has in order to take from them something they really do not want to give to you, just as you really do not want to give what you are putting up to lose. These men were simply dividing property that was not theirs and their means for dividing the property was a means of chance, casting lots or dice, or perhaps drawing straws.

Greater love can noone have than this, that one would lay down his life for another and that is what we are seeing this evening, no greater love than the love Jesus has for us, for each and everyone of us. Jesus loves us so much. Jesus loves you so much. Jesus created us to love us. Jesus shows His love for us. Jesus, true God, gave up the glory that was His in heaven, in order to be born unto this world, except that unlike us who are conceived and born in sin, He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and thus was born in perfection. Jesus lived a perfect life, obeying all of God’s laws and commands perfectly, including His command to be perfect. Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place as our substitute, because we cannot live in such a way. Jesus fulfilled all of God’s promises and prophecies perfectly. And then He took our sins and the sins of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself and suffered for all sin. He suffered physical punishment and most importantly He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell for us in our place.

Jesus suffered and died in all humility, in all shame, naked and alone on the cross. Crucifixion was the worst form of punishment and was intended for the worst criminals as a punishment and as a warning against others so that they would not commit the same crime. Crucifixion was capital punishment and the worst form. There was nothing humane about it.

Again, Jesus was leaving this world as He had entered, with nothing. The only difference is that He entered in perfection and now He was dying in our sins. And because of Jesus, this order is the opposite of each one of us who are conceived and born in sin, and by faith in Jesus we leave this world in perfection, His perfection.

Jesus suffered and died for all. But we know the whole story, we know the rest of the story, death and the grave had no hold over Him. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil. He rose and showed Himself to be alive. After showing Himself to be alive for forty days He ascended, returning to the place from which He had descended, returning to the glory that was His.

As we see the dice we are reminded of what a great God we have, what a loving God we have, a God who gave up everything for us, because of His great love for us. God loves us so much. God loves you so much. God created us to love us and even when we have sinned, He is always there to forgive us. Jesus’ death purchased forgiveness for us and for all. So, having been forgiven we start over, and with His help we live lives of faith. We live lives which say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lighting - March 18, 2012 - Fourth Sunday in Lent - Text: John 3:14-21

This morning we come to hear the heart of our Christian faith and church. We come to hear that verse we have grown up calling “the gospel in the nutshell.” We come to hear John 3:16, but we come to hear it in its proper context. Its context is this, Jesus had cleansed the temple, remember, that was our text for last week, and now He was alone with His disciples. It was now night and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, comes to Jesus to speak to Him. “[Nicodemus] said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’” (John 3:2b). In other words, Nicodemus has been paying attention. He has noticed the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus has preformed which “prove” that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the One promised to save the world. Perhaps Nicodemus is a believer, which is what brought him to Jesus under the cover of night. Jesus’ response to Nicodemus is, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). To which Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4). Jesus’ answer is that you must be born of the spirit and Nicodemus responds, “How can this be?” (John 3:9). Our text for this morning is Jesus’ answer to his question.

Jesus’ answer to Nicademus goes back to an Old Testament illustration of sin and its effect. Jesus is referring to the sin of rebellion by the children of Israel in the desert. Here I would refer you to our Old Testament lesson for this morning. The children of Israel had been delivered from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. They had been saved from the Egyptian army by God opening a path through the Red Sea. They had seen the almighty hand of God deliver them and yet, how easily and how soon they have forgotten. When their faith was tested they reverted back to their old ways of whining. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” (Numbers 21: 5b). Had not God provided for all their needs? Do they think He will stop providing for them? What provoked them to believe that He would not continue to take care of them and all their needs?

Yet, before we chastize the children of Israel too much, we might want to stop and take a look at our own lives? God has given us all things. He gives us life at conception and new life, spiritual life, through Holy Baptism. God has provided us with an opportunity to get an education, the ability to work, even a job to perform. God has provided us with gifts, talents and abilities to perform the work we need to perform at our job. God has provided us with a wage to purchase food to eat, to put a roof over our heads, to put shoes on our feet and clothes on our back. God has provided us with all that we need to support the needs of our daily lives and even many if not most of the wants of our daily lives and yet, how do we respond? “What have you done for me lately, God?” Yes, we commit the same sin of rebellion. We daily sin much. We commit sins of omission, not doing what we are supposed to be doing, not helping others who need help, not putting others and their needs before our own, not looking for ways to share our faith with others. And we commit sins of commission, doing what we are not supposed to be doing, not putting God first in our lives. Oh, we might say that we do these things, that God has first place in our lives, that He is our number one priority, that our relationship with Him is our number one priority, but our actions and words betray us. The fact is, we continue to put ourselves first. As children and even as adult children we forget to honor our parents and guardians, we speak unflattering words about a coworker, we gossip, or rather, “we do not repeat gossip, so you better listen close the first time.” We sin and this sin is rebellion against God.

We are reminded in the Old Testament lesson and by Jesus in the Gospel that the price for sin is death, even eternal spiritual death, which is hell. Yes, in our country we put a scale of punishment for crimes committed. Murder is deserving of a much harsher punishment than speeding. Gossiping and lying may not even be punishable. But in God’s eyes, sin is sin. All sins are equal. The sin of lying is just as punishable by eternal spiritual death as is murder. The price, the cost, the wage, what all sin earns is eternal spiritual death, hell.

Thanks be to God, that just as He sent a cure for the rebellious children of Israel, He also has a cure for us and that cure is His grace and mercy. In the “Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16, Jesus tells us about His universal grace, that is that God loves the whole world, the whole universe. Jesus was born into this world as a Jew in order to save the Jews, but not the Jews only. Remember, God chose the Jewish nation to be the nation to bring salvation to the world. Their mission was to share their faith in the Lord with others, yet they did not do that, instead they kept it to themselves. (Prayerfully, we will not make the same mistake.)

Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save the world. That does not mean that Jesus tolerates sin. And actually the fact is that He is contrary to our so called tolerant world in that He is intolerant especially He is intolerant of sin. He never approves of sin. Instead, Jesus came to take the sin of the world upon Himself. He came to take the punishment for sin upon Himself. He came to die for the sins of the whole world in order to save the whole world.

God’s will is not that some are saved and the others are condemned. No, God’s will is that all are saved. That statement begs the question, “then why are some saved and some are not saved?” Jesus’ answer is that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” Some have already judged themselves because of their unbelief, which is the unforgivable sin, dying in unbelief. Yes, folks, God is intolerant. Anything less than faith in Jesus Christ alone will condemn a person to eternal judgement. When we allow our family and friends to continue on in their lives rejecting Christ, absenting themselves from divine service and Bible study, or when we allow them to continue on in their very religious life, if that very religious life includes a belief in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ alone, then we are condemning them to eternal spiritual death. God’s will is that they have a part in His Kingdom, thus His will is that we share His Word and love with them.

God’s will is, and Jesus died in order, that all people are saved which is universal atonement. Universal atonement is important, but even more important is vicarious atonement, that is that Jesus gave His life for you and for me. God so loved the world and He so loves you and me.

Paul expounds on Jesus’ words in the Epistle lesson for today. Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith. We are saved by God’s grace, His undeserved love for us. We do not deserve that Jesus should give His life, that He should pay the price for our sins, that He should die the eternal spiritual death penalty for us. This love, this living and dying is grace. We are saved by grace and we are saved through faith. Faith is the instrument which takes hold of and makes all God’s good gifts and blessings ours and this faith is also a gift.

Paul does not stop there. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are not saved for nothing. We are saved for a purpose, as Paul says, to do the good works which God has prepared beforehand (in advance) for us to do. In other words, faith shows itself in action, in good works. And as we have said at other times, what makes a work a good work in God’s eyes is this, that it is motivated by God, that it is worked in us by God, and that it is done to His glory.

This morning we have the privilege, the undeserved privilege, of having God pour out upon us grace upon grace. We are reminded that God gives and we are given to. God gives us our life at conception. He gives us new life through Holy Baptism. He gives us forgiveness of sins earned by His death on the cross. He puts His name on us. He makes us His children. He claims us as His own.

God gives even more. Daily He strengthens us in faith through His Word. As we daily make use of His Word, that is as we read His Word, and remember our Baptism He works through these means to give us the strength that we need to meet the challenges which are before us each day. Every week as we come to His house for divine service we have the opportunity to make use of confession and absolution, confessing all our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and we have opportunity to make use of His Holy Supper. In His Holy Supper He comes to us through the eating and drinking of His body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine. He comes to us to give us forgiveness of sins and to strengthen us in our faith in Him and in our love for each other.

God is the prime mover. He gives and gives and gives. He gives and He keeps us in faith until Christ comes again, to take us to heaven. When we come to divine service we are like a dirty mirror. The first thing that happens in divine service is that our mirror is cleaned, that is confession and absolution. Once our mirror is clean, then we are able to reflect, to say back to God what He gives us to say. We have nothing to reflect of our own, we only reflect as our Lord shines His love on us.

God gives to us and we respond. Our response is not an attempt at payment for services rendered. Our response is not an attempt to show Jesus that He had to die any less for me. No, our response is a response of faith. We are so filled with His many good gifts and blessings that we cannot help but overflow and share His love to others, to, as Paul says, “do the good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Jesus says it best and we all know what He says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Chalice - Lent Mid-week 4 - March 14, 2012 - Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This evening we continue looking at the symbols of Lent and Easter. Our symbol this evening is the Chalice, that is the cup which is thought to be used by Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed, the night in which He shared the Passover Seder with His disciples or rather with His Apostles and from that Passover Seder He gave His apostles and us something new, His Holy Supper, the Lord’s Supper.

The background of the Passover Seder is that this was a meal of remembrance. This feast, this celebration, this meal was given to the Children of Israel by God Himself as a reminder to His people of their being delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. The very first Passover entailed each family of the children of Israel to select an unblemished lamb which was slaughtered, the blood collected and with a hyssop branch painted on the door post and lintel of the door of the house as a sign and mark that the angel of death would pass over that house and spare the life of the first born. Interestingly enough, the painting of the blood on the door post and lintel make for a sign of the cross, the up and downward motion on the door posts and the side to side motion over the lintel.

The Seder meal included the consumption of four cups of wine and the eating of unleavened bread. The cups of wine in order were called the cup of sanctification, the cup of deliverance, the cup of redemption and the cup of praise. The unleavened bread consisted of three pieces of matzah in which the middle piece of matzah was broken with half being hidden and found later. Also the unleavened bread or matzah was pierced with holes, and stripped with char or burn marks.

The Seder meal was a meal of remembrance, remembering the passing over of the angel of death as Israel departed, escaped and were delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. The final plague God sent in Egypt was the angel of death who went throughout Egypt killing the first born of man and animal, passing over the houses of the Israelites that were marked with the blood of the lamb.

The meaning of symbols include the Middle Matzah, which, as we said was broken, and half was hidden. The hidden half was later found and “redeemed” or bought back by the father. This middle matzah, broken, hidden and redeemed reminds us of Jesus who was broken, died, was buried and in three days rose for us.

It was this third cup of wine in particular, cup of redemption, which Jesus gave to His apostles with the words, “this is my blood.” Paul reminds us in his epistle, a little later than our text that if anyone eats and drink this Lord’s Supper without recognizing the body and blood of Christ, eats and drinks judgement on themselves. Thus, Jesus’ words are important and meaningful, this is His body and blood which He has given, broken and poured out for us.

And Jesus says to “do this in remembrance.” This word remembrance is not simply a recollection of a certain event as we would imagine today. No, this remembrance is an actual participation in the event which has taken place. So, as we eat the bread and body of Christ, and as we drink the wine and blood of Christ we are actually participating in His life, suffering, death and resurrection so that His life becomes our life, His suffering becomes our suffering, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.

In the Old Testament the family would bring the lamb to be sacrificed. The lamb was to be a whole, pure, unblemished lamb. The lamb was slaughtered, killed, and barbequed. The priest would keep part of the lamb for himself and his family and the rest of the lamb was eaten by family as they participated in the sacrifice.

So, what does this mean? And what is the significance of the chalice, of the eating and drinking of bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus mean for us today? In the Garden of Eden God promised to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve. The price for sin was set, death, physical death and, apart from Jesus, eternal spiritual death, or hell. The price could only be paid by someone who did not owe, thus, we could never and will never be able to pay the price for our sins, because we owe too much, even our own souls for our sins.

Throughout the Old Testament, God directed the children of Israel to sacrifice offerings in order to remind the children of Israel that the price for sin is death. Truly, all these Old Testament sacrifices meant nothing as far as actually paying the price for sin, all they did was point to the one ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Like the Old Testament lamb, which was to be unblemished, Jesus is our Lamb of God, pure and holy, yet, it was not we who put our sins on Jesus, rather it was Jesus who took our sins, and all sin, the sin of all people of all places of all times. Jesus took our sins and He suffered and died, shedding His blood and paying the price, the physical death as well as the eternal spiritual death of hell for us in our place. Jesus could do this, take our sins, because as true God He was perfect and holy. And He could do this, take our place and be our substitute, because He was also one of us, truly human, being born of the human woman, the virgin Mary.

When we attend the Lord’s Supper we eat the bread and with the bread we eat Jesus body’ and we drink the wine from the cup and with the wine we drink Jesus’ blood, thus, very much like the Old Testament sacrifices, we participate in Jesus so that His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.

And so, very much like the angel death passed over the homes marked with the blood of the lamb in Egypt, so too even today the angel of death, the angel of eternal spiritual death passes over us who are marked with the blood of Jesus, so that we do not die an eternal spiritual death, even though we may have to suffer physical death.

We are given life. The greatest gift we are given is the gift of forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness we are left in our sins and we would only have eternal spiritual death. But with forgiveness is life and salvation. And the Gospel is that it is all gift. Gift given, gift received, all God’s doing, all our being done to.

As we look at the chalice we are reminded of the blood of Jesus. We are reminded that it was Jesus who shed His blood for us. It was Jesus who traded His life for ours. What should have been ours, eternal spiritual death, Jesus took. What should have been Jesus’, eternal life in Heaven, is ours. It is when we understand the whole sacramental aspect of the Lord’s Supper, that is when we realize how wonderful the Lord’s Supper truly is and why we crave the Lord’s Supper, for without this understanding, it would simply be a snack. But when we understand how the Lord’s Supper is a means through which He comes to us to give us the gifts He has to give, we crave the meal for our strengthening. May the chalice indeed remind you of this pure gift of Gospel of Jesus giving Himself completely for you because of His love for you.

Let me leave you with Paul’s passing on of the giving of the Lord’s Supper, ““23For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cleaning - March 11, 2012 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: John 2:2:13-22 [23-25]

Last week Jesus explained to us exactly what it means and how much it costs to be a disciple. It means, “denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus.” It costs giving up life in this world for life in the world to come, eternal life. We were also reminded that because of our own sinful nature, in and of ourselves, we are not able to do these things. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us that we can be followers of Jesus. This morning we continue our journey with Jesus as we see Him, once again, demonstrate what it means to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him.” One thing I will ask of you this morning, “do not lose your focus on the events which are being played out in our text. Keep your eye focused on Jesus’ demonstration of discipleship.” If you miss it, I will bring it back into focus later.

Since Jesus turned twelve years old and was legally an adult He has attended the three celebrations required by law. These required celebrations were the celebration of the Passover, the celebration of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles or booths. These celebrations meant going up to Jerusalem to the temple. These celebrations were huge events with many people coming from all over to take part.

Our text for this morning brings us to the particular celebration of the Passover. This celebration required that sacrifices would be made by the people. Many people who came to the Passover celebration came from far away. Some came and bought the animal they would sacrifice when they arrived in town. Others brought their own animals with them. The problem with the one’s who brought their own animal was that the animal had to pass the inspection of the priest to make sure it was a spotless animal. However, many times it would appear that the animal was deemed as unworthy for the sacrifice. Once they were deemed unworthy they had to sell the animal and buy one which was worthy, at least, according to the priest.

For many years the ones who were selling these animals were down the street, maybe at the other end of town. Over the years they found it more convenient to be closer to the temple, until at this time they had already reached the temple courtyard, the courtyard of the Gentiles. So, in Jesus day, the temple courtyard was overrun with these zealous sellers of “spotless” animals for sacrificing in the temple. All this is according to the “letter of the law.” I suppose that if a modern day news team were to investigate what was happening that they might find that the same animals which were deemed unfit for sacrifice were later sold to someone else as being fit for sacrifice. I suppose they would uncover a nice money making scheme in which little or nothing was paid for an “unfit” animal and then the price hiked on one which would be declared “fit.”

But the scheme does not stop there. In order to purchase in the temple courtyard you had to have the right currency. Remember, people were coming to Jerusalem from all over the world with many different currencies. In order to help and be of service to you, so that you would have the right currency, there was a booth to exchange monies. Here again, the local investigative news team would probably find that this exchange of monies was also a good way to make money. What this boils down to is that all these activities going on in the temple were merely places were money makers were legally robbing the worshipers.

So, what does this have to do with us, with you and me? When we are reminded that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we begin to get a better idea of what was happening. Jesus would rather have us all to Himself. He would rather our lives not be cluttered with so many distractions. Too often these distractions creep in unaware. It is like the story of the camel in the desert. The nomad stopped for the night and pitched his tent. About 11 pm the camel stuck his head in the tent. The nomad asked him what he was doing and he said, it was so wind outside and would the nomad mind if he just stuck his head in the tent. The nomad said he did not mind. About midnight the nomad awoke to find the camel’s front feet in the tent. Again the exchange was that the camel merely wanted to put his front feet in the tent, it was so windy outside. The nomad agreed and went back to sleep. About two am the nomad awoke and the camel was more than three fourths the way in the tent. And again the exchange that it was so windy outside the camel asked if the nomad would not mind. The nomad said okay. Finally, about four in the morning the nomad awoke to find himself outside the tent. We are so much like this in our daily lives. The devil does not tempt us to not go to church, or Bible class or Sunday School. He does not tempt us to not give of our time and talents, no, he just tempts us with other things. We have so many things vying for our attention, our time, our talents, our treasures. Little by little we allow these things to take over until we find ourselves outside the tent. Until we allow the Lord’s temple, our lives, to be cluttered with everything except Him.

But then Jesus “rides” into town with His whip. We are told that He is zealous for His Father’s house and we are reminded that He is the Son of God. This temple is His Father’s house. He is sick, as we should be, of the atrocities which were happening in this house of worship.

Jesus has come to town to celebrate the Passover. He takes the time to walk around the temple to see what is happening. Everywhere He looks He sees deception and stealing going on. And He is angry. He has every right to be angry. As He walks through the temple courtyard He is braiding some cords together to make a whip. He is angry, but He does not sin in His anger. Remember, anger in itself is not sin. How you act out anger may be a sin. Jesus did not sin in His anger. He did not sin in His casting out of the money changers. He attacked no one and hurt no one. He merely removed the physical property which was used to steal from the worshipers.

By His actions Jesus shows He is God. John writes a commentary in an aside as he says, “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”

Jesus drove the money changers, the thieves, those legally stealing from others, out of the temple. And then He meets His opposition. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law ask the question, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” There was no question concerning whether or not this was a good thing which Jesus did, which we see that it was a good thing. There was rather the question, springing from the loss of revenues, of “authority.”

The answer to their question was seen in His actions. Jesus had been and continued to show His authority through the signs, wonders and miracles which He performed. Time and again was the question put to Jesus concerning His authority. Time and again His divinity, the fact that He is God, was attached to a miracle He would perform and time and again He showed Himself to be who He said He was, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

The second answer Jesus gives is the answer of His death and resurrection. This answer is spoken in a mashal, which is a teaching statement. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” We are clued in and understand that what Jesus is speaking about is His body. Those hearing this do not have a clue and believe that He is speaking about the actual physical building of the temple. In another aside commentary, John says, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” As Jesus reached the end of His earthly life and when He was put on trial, a few days later, this statement would be used against Him in a court of law. And His conviction in that court proved what He was saying, as He did die on the cross and three days later, rose from the dead.

Now, let me ask you, did you keep your eye focused? How does this text focus our attention on discipleship? How does this text apply to me? First, we must begin by admitting that we are sinners. We are born in sin. We add to that inborn sin our own sins of commission and omission. We are slavers to sin. We have already stated our tendency to let the things of this world take priority over the things of God. But there is more. We are often no better than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. We question Jesus’ authority. Who is He to ask for our time, our talents, our treasures? Who is He to judge us? Who is Jesus to tell us right from wrong? Too often we are so in tune and in grained with the thoughts of our society that we are actual enemies of God. We spout Biblically incorrect statements like, “what anyone does is their own business.” “You are not supposed to judge other people.” The heart of these statements and statements like them is authority and does God have the ultimate authority over us?

Fortunately, for us, we have the answer. The answer is Jesus and His answer is what laid ahead of Him. His answer is the cross. His answer is that He came to give His life, His life for ours. It is our sin, our confusion of priorities, our demand for our own authority which puts Jesus on the cross. It is His love for us, so much so that He denied Himself and took up the cross in order that we might have forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ authority is an authority of love, giving Himself for us.

Now that we have been brought back into a right relationship with our Father in heaven, through faith in His Son, faith which has been given to us. Now that we have been made right before God, by Jesus, God Himself in human flesh. Now that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, purchased and paid for by Jesus’ blood. Now, we also have the Holy Spirit who works in and through us so that we might respond to all that He has done for us. Our response is a response of faith and submission to His authority and giving of ourselves.

I think Paul summarizes it best for us in the words of this mornings Epistle lesson, “22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). I pray that your focus may ever be on Christ and Him crucified. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Cross - Lent Mid-week 3 - March 7, 2012 - Text: Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15

This evening we continue to look at some of the symbols for Lent and Easter. This evening we look at what is probably the most predominate symbol, not simply for Lent and Easter, but for Christianity in general. This evening we look at the cross and its significance. As we begin, let me first say, that is it truly sad that for too many people in our world today the cross has simply become a nice piece of jewelry, a nice set of earrings, a nice necklace, even a pretty colored piece of jewelry which matches my outfit, if you will. Let me first, rather crassly ask, would you were a pair of electric chair earrings? Because, whatever we think of the cross in terms of fashion, its original intent and purpose was as a means of execution and it was intended to be the most cruel means of execution. But let us get to the cross and its symbolism.

We first come upon the cross in the Old Testament in the account of Moses and the rebellion of the Israelites. God sent serpents to punish Israel and He sent for Moses to put a serpent on a pole to save the people. We read the Moses account, “8And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ 9So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:8-9).

God had delivered the children of Israel from their bondage of slavery in Egypt and now they were wondering in the wilderness on their way to the promised land. And the people continually rebelled against Moses and against God. They continually complained because of their situation. They did not trust God. They continually sinned and in their sin they sinned even more.

And so, God punished the people. In the instance of our text, God punished the people by sending these snakes to bite and poison the people. There is nothing like the law and punishment to get people back in line. Of course the people did not like the fact that they were being punished and being killed off by these snakes and so they prayed to God. Whether they truly recognized their sin or not, I cannot say. All I can say is what the text says and it says they cried out for help.

God heard the cry of the people. He heard their cry of repentance and God sent forgiveness. The forgiveness God sent was a way for the Israelites to acknowledge their sin and confess and to, in faith, be given God’s forgiveness through the cure. God told Moses to put a snake on a pole so that in repentance and faith, when the person looked at the serpent on the pole he or she would be healed.

What we see happening here is that the curse has became the cure. The serpent which was sent to bite and punish the people has become the cure in that a simple look in faith at the serpent on the pole brought forgiveness and healing. Please keep these images in mind as we move into the New Testament.

Fast forward to the New Testament. When Jesus was speaking of Moses about this situation He says, “14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Jesus’ reference is first to Adam and Eve and their rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Their sin has been passed down, born in all people, genetically passed on. This sin which is passed on is what we call original sin. This sin was passed on even to God’s chosen people, the children of Israel. We see the fruition of this genetically inborn original sin in the rebellion of the children of Israel.

When God threatened to punish the sin of Adam and Eve that punishment was to be eternal, spiritual death. When God threatened to punish the children of Israel, at least in this instance it was the threat of temporal or physical death.

When Adam and Eve confessed, God promised and gave forgiveness. When the children of Israel confessed, God promised and gave forgiveness. When we confess our sins, we still have God’s promise and He gives us forgiveness of sins.

In the Garden of Eden God promise to send a Savior, even Himself in human flesh, the Son of man. In the wilderness God sent the serpent on the pole to be the cure. When the people looked at the curse on the pole and believed they were cured. When we look at the Son of man, the human Jesus, one of us who brought the curse, through Adam, Jesus became the cure.

What we are reading, hearing, is what we call a type and an antitype. The events of the Old Testament are a type of, are linked, and prefigure the events of the New Testament which are the antitype. Thus, we see the brazen serpent on the cross is a type of Christ and Jesus on the cross is the antitype. The poison-less (lifeless) serpent is the type and the “helpless” human Jesus, is the antitype. The “looking” at the brazen serpent meant healing is the type and “looking” at Jesus, that is faith in Jesus, means forgiveness and eternal life is the antitype. The punishment (being bitten by serpents) became the cure - the serpent being put on the cross is the type and the punishment for sin (death) became the cure - Jesus died on the cross in our place is the antitype.

What does this mean? Scripture continually bears out the truth that in the beginning God created everything perfect and holy, or as it says in Genesis, good and very good. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned and now their sin infects all humanity as all people are conceived and born in sin.

God’s threat of punishment, eternal spiritual death must be appeased, the price for sin must be paid. The wages, the price, the cost for sin is death, physical or temporal death, but worse, eternal spiritual death which is hell. God’s threat is to all who have ever lived, all who are alive and all who ever will live. His threat is on those who are not perfect.

Thanks be to God that He has promised a way out and that way out is through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In order for Jesus to be our Savior He had to be perfect. In order to be perfect, He had to be and He is truly God. In order to be our substitute He had to be one of us, a human being. Jesus was born of the human woman, Mary and so He is truly human.

Jesus, being conceived by the Holy Spirit is true God, who gave up the glory that was His in heaven. Jesus became man, being born of a woman, being born in a stable. Jesus lived perfectly, for us, in our place because we cannot be perfect. After living a perfect life. After fulfilling all God’s commands and promises fully, Jesus took man’s sin, upon Himself. He who knew no sin became sin for us. And Jesus suffered. He suffered the entire price for our sin. He suffered eternal spiritual death for us in our place and He died. Of course, we know the whole story, we know the rest of the story, He did not stay dead, death and the grave had no power over Him, for on the third day He rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil.

The cross, the means of capital punishment, the means of death has became our cure. We are the ones who bring sin and death. Yet, when we look on Jesus, as one of us, by faith in Him we have forgiveness and life, even eternal life. And so, much like the early sacrifice, where the family would eat the sacrifice, and thus participate in the sacrifice, so at the Lord’s Table, at the Lord’s Supper we too eat Jesus body and drink His blood and participate in His life, death and resurrection so that His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.

The cross, for us Christians is a symbol of death, but even more, it is a symbol of life. It is a symbol of physical death and our sins which cause such death, but it is a symbol of life, of Jesus giving His life for ours so that we have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness life and salvation. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What is okay and what is not okay, according to contemporary popular culture:

So, if we are honest, we must admit and understand the our life expectancy in this world is eighty, maybe ninety and in rare cases one hundred years (God has limited man’s years to 120 [Gen. 6:3]). And eternity, life after life in this world is forever, no ending, on and on, eons upon eons. And if we take God’s Word seriously, then we understand that eternity is forever and there is not movement from heaven to hell or from hell to heaven following the day of judgement. We also understand that the judgement that will befall us is determined by our faith or non-faith in Jesus, faith or non-faith which shows itself in one’s life.

With the above understanding and presuppositions, why is it that we think we are more caring when we care about a person’s temporary physical well being and we are accused of all sorts of malevolence, malice and meanness when we show care for their eternal well-being? Let me explain. When a friend has a drinking or drug problem, we believe it is okay to point out this problem and work to help our friend to beat the problem. Yet, when our friend puts their soul in eternal peril, by such public sins as living together without the benefit of marriage, living any lifestyle contrary to the Word of God, such as a homosexual lifestyle, or by outright despising the Word of God by not only rejecting the gifts God gives by not being in Divine Service and Bible class regularly (every time it is offered) and even speaks out against the pastor and the congregation, we think, “How dare you.”

What most people fail to realize concerning spiritual sins is the fact that even though Jesus paid the price for all sins, we reject that forgiveness when we fail to confess, to repent of our sins and when we fail to strive with God’s help to not commit such sins again. So, when I am living with someone without the benefit of marriage, not only am I sinning, but I am rejecting forgiveness by not confessing that I am doing wrong. But, what if I do confess? When we confess we live that confession by changing our lives, by striving with God’s help to not continue to do the same sin. So, if I confess and then continue blatantly to live in that sin I am truly not confessing. To live in one’s sin, denying forgiveness puts one’s soul in eternal peril, because to die refusing and rejecting the gifts God gives is the sin against the Holy Spirit. And this principle may be applied to any public or private sin in which one refuses to confess and/or, with God’s help, change one’s way.

So, again, why are we perceived and less loving when we care for one’s eternal well-being over one’s physical, earthly well-being? Maybe it is time we start rethinking our attitudes toward others that love us by calling us to account for our spiritual well-being.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Denying - March 4, 2012 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Mark 8:27-38

If it had been a snake it would have bitten you. How often is something “right before our eyes,” and we miss it? That is what happened to Peter and his fellow disciples.

Our account for this morning begins with Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do others think I am?” Jesus wanted to know if the general public knew who He was, especially since He had been showing Himself to be the Messiah through the signs, wonders and miracles He had been performing. The answer is that the public does not really know who Jesus is, but thinks, perhaps He is John the Baptist, who had been beheaded, or Elijah, or one of the prophets, in particular Moses.

Okay, so the general public does not know who Jesus is, what about His own disciples? So Jesus asks them, “Who do you think I am?” And this is where Peter answers and confesses for the rest of the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, that is He is the promised Messiah. And Jesus tells them to tell no one about Him, at least not at this time.

Jesus is the “rabbi.” He is the teacher of these disciples and every day He continues to instruction them. They have already learned many things. They have seen more than many had seen. They have, first hand, seen the signs and wonders, the miracles which He performed as “proof” of the fact that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, even God in human flesh. Peter has confessed for himself and for the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and now Jesus continues their instruction. Jesus tells them that He must suffer many things, that He must be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed. He makes no “bones” about it. He does not talk in veiled language. He does not hold back, He tells them like it is, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be killed.

The disciples were used to Jesus speaking in parables, but of course, many times they too did not understand what He was saying and Jesus would have to explain what He meant to them. At this time Jesus does not speak in parables, but He speaks plainly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

This time, having spoken plainly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again,” now the disciples understand what Jesus is saying. They understand so much so that Peter gets up and speaks for them, again, and this time he rebukes Jesus. ‘No, Lord, this is not going to happen. Don’t talk about suffering and dying. Suffering and dying are not what the Christ, the Son of the living God is about.’ Peter cannot think of anything good that would come from suffering and especially from death. How would your dying be a good thing? How can you teach us if you are dead? Yes, Peter rebukes Jesus.

Jesus continues the disciples instruction with a rebuke back to them. The things of God are the cross, death and forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. The price for our sins is eternal spiritual death, hell. Whether our sins are sins of commission, doing something we should not have been doing, or they are sins of omission, not doing something we should be doing. The cost, the wage, the price for our sins is eternal spiritual death, hell. Back in the Garden of Eden God had told Adam and Eve that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and we know what happened. They did eat of the fruit. The warning from God was that if they ate of the fruit they would surely die. And after they ate of the fruit they began to die. They died spiritually and they began to die physically. And we know that even though they did not ultimately die spiritually, that is they did not die an eternal spiritual death, they did not go to hell, because of God’s promise to send a Savior to take care of the spiritual punishment, they did die physically. The punishment was meted out. The price for sin is death, eternal spiritual death. We are born in sin and we daily add to our sin. And the price for that sin has to be paid. The only way we can have life is through death.

For Peter, for the disciples, for many people today, the things of man are glory, power and might. We reveal in glory, power and might. We fantasize, romanticize, and often visualize ourselves in positions of glory, power and might. This is the better way, at least in our own minds and according the ways of the world, but these are not the ways of God and they were not the ways of Jesus. The way of Jesus, the way of forgiveness, the way of eternal glory, the way of power over sin and evil, the way of might over the devil is the way of the cross.

Which brings us to the question of “What is true discipleship?” For some, maybe even for many in our world today, the way of true discipleship is to follow Jesus and His example. For some it is the way of asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” And for some that might be a good reminder of being faithful. However, for others, that may be simply an excuse to do it my way in the name of Jesus. I say that because as a sinful human being, I do not know what Jesus would do and even if I did know what Jesus was do, I would probably do the opposite. Thus, how easy it would be for me to answer that Jesus would, of course, do what I naturally would do, which is saying that I would do it my way and blame it on Jesus. True discipleship includes following Jesus’ example, but it also includes the realization that without the help of the Holy Spirit that we cannot follow Jesus’ example.

True discipleship, Jesus Himself tells us, is denying oneself. To deny oneself means, to not pay attention to our wants and desires, to refuse to think about what we want for ourselves, to put our own wants and desires at the end of the line, to say to ourselves, “keep quiet.” To deny ourselves, we must admit, is very difficult, if not impossible, especially in the “me first” world in which we live. How often we are told to “look out for number one.” Yet, true discipleship is just that, denying yourself.

True discipleship is taking up one’s cross. Here we must distinguish between crosses that are inflicted upon us and self inflicted crosses. Too often we put ourselves in the position to bring a cross upon ourselves. We might take a stand insisting that this is what Jesus would do and think we are suffering for our “holy” actions, when in reality we have put the cross on ourselves. I do not necessarily like this as an example, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a great example of this. They preach false doctrine, have the door slammed in their faces and count it as suffering for God. That is not true discipleship and taking up one’s cross. True discipleship is taking up one’s cross and standing firm in one’s faith in Jesus alone, even to the point of death.

The paradox of life is this, we either have life in this world and not in the world to come, or we have life in the world to come and not in this world. We cannot have it both ways. We may try to fool ourselves into thinking we can, but we cannot have it both ways. Jesus expressed it this way, “you cannot serve two masters for you will either hate the one and love the other, or love the one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

If our goal is life in this world and living it to its fullest (in all the decadent sense of that word) then our goal really is losing our life, that is losing our life in the world to come. What we are doing is exchanging life in the world to come for life in this world. Do we make decisions concerning our life based on the here and now or the hereafter? Are we like the rich fool who tore down his old barns in order to build bigger barns and said to himself, “today I will eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow I will worry about my eternal soul.” You might remember that it was that very night that his soul was required of him.

If our goal is saving our life, that is, if our goal is eternal life, that means giving up the things of this life. What is our priority? Do we live as if this world is all there is, or do we live as if this world is merely a “snap of the fingers,” compared to the world to come? Do we live as if today is all there is, or that we are living for eternal life? If our goal is saving our life, that is, eternal life, then we will live our lives with our eyes focused on the world to come. We will live our lives in such a way that all we do can be seen by others as a prelude to the world to come. Others will see through our lives that there is more to life than just this present existence.

What is our confession? What is in our heart and what do we believe? Our confession truly is our life and our life truly is our confession. Our confession is a confession of thought, word and action (deed). How we live, the way we make decisions and the decisions we make show what is our confession. There is no way around it. We live according to what we confess and we confess according to what we live.

What is our confession? What is our confession of faith? Do we confess with Peter and the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? And if that is our confession, do we really understand the ramifications of that confession? Do we understand that confession means, not glory, power, and might, but suffering, death and resurrection? Our lives as Christians are not glamorous, famous, powerful lives, they are not lives in which only good things happen to us and if only good things are not happening then we must have a problem with our faith. To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God is to confess our sins and to live lives that are at odds with the world in which we live, to live in the shadow of the cross and even to suffer because of our faith.

What is our confession? Is our confession a complete confession? In other words, is our confession a confession of complete agreement of the Word of God, whether we like what the Word of God says or not? My confession is a complete confession when I give up myself, my wants and my desires, in order to live my life, to allow my thoughts, words and actions (deeds) to reflect my faith in Jesus Christ alone. Of course, we know that in and of ourselves we cannot have such a confession. It is only as Christ confesses His love for us and gives us faith, it is only as the Holy Spirit gives us faith and stirs in us that we can make such a confession, albeit an imperfect confession as we continually, daily break our confession, repent and renew that confession.

I cannot say it any better than Jesus said it Himself, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34b-38). With Jesus’ help, we forfeit our lives in this world and we rejoice and say, to God be the Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

More To Think About

What is wrong with this statement?
“Jesus came to show us how to live.”

Perhaps the putting the best construction on everything and explaining everything in the best possible light we might say that Jesus did some to set an example for us, but if that is the only reason Jesus came, then certainly we would simply fall into disbelief, despair and other great shame and vice. The fact of the matter is that we cannot live according to Jesus’ example; thus, if the way one is saved is to follow Jesus’ example, then we would all be doomed.

Jesus came to live for us. Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness for us. Jesus came to obey the Law perfectly for us. Jesus came to fulfill all the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah for us. Actually Jesus came to do what Israel was chosen to do and could not do. Jesus came as the true Israel, to live as God’s chosen people. Jesus came to take our sins upon Himself. Jesus came to suffer and die to pay the price for our sins. Jesus came to rise from the dead defeating sin, death and the devil. Jesus showed Himself to be alive, for us. Jesus ascended to the place from which He descended where He is watching over us, ruling over us, and interceding for us.

Here again we see the fullness of the Gospel is not simply that Jesus died and rose, but that He lived for us; thus. He was able to give His life as a substitute for us. He took our sins. He gives us His righteousness and perfection.

What Jesus does and our response to what Jesus does can be seen in this illustration of repentance. There was a teacher who passed out new crayons to the entire class. She told all her students to be careful and not break them. One child pushed a little too hard and broke one of his crayons. The teacher then asked for the children to put any broken crayons on the top of their desk. In order to “stay out of trouble,” the one child hid the broken crayon in the box, putting the bottom part in the box and the broken off top part on top. The teacher then went around the room and instead of “yelling” at the students, she exchanged new crayons for broken ones. Unfortunately, the child with the hidden crayon did not receive a new crayon. In much the same way, our sins that are unconfessed, although the price has been paid for those sins, to us they are not forgiven. We have refused that forgiveness, which is truly our own option since the price has already been paid. And our sins that are confessed are forgiven because the price has already been paid.