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, February 27, 2013

The Covenant to Isaac - Lent Mid-week 3 - February 27, 2013 - Text: Gen. 26:1-5

Our text for this evening is Genesis 26:1-5: “1Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” This is our text.
 
This year during the season of Lent and Easter we are following the thread of God’s promise to send a Savior for all people (one covenant, not two). We began in the Garden of Eden when God first made His promise to send a Savior to Adam and Eve, before there was a Jew or Gentile. Last week we continued with the reiteration of the covenant and the announcement of its fulfillment being narrowed, that is that the Savior of all nations would be born through the line of Abram whose name was later changed to Abraham. This week we move ahead to God’s reiterating His promise to Abraham’s son, Isaac.
 
As we said, God chose Abram and changed his name to Abraham. God chose Abram, not because of any innate goodness within him, but simply because God chose him. By God’s grace He chose Abram. Out of all the people in the world, God chose Abram. And remember, Abram was not a perfect person. He had his flaws, even suffering from the sin of idolatry as he had to put away his own household idols. But God chose him and called him to be the one through whom He would keep His promise of sending a Messiah.
 
God chose Abram and promised him that He would make his name great, he would be a great nation and all nations of the world would be blessed through him, through the fact that the Savior of the world would be born through his line of descendants. It took God many years to begin to fulfill His promise, especially of children, Abraham and Sarah did have a child, Isaac. And even though after Sarah died and Abraham remarried and even though he had other children, Isaac was considered his only son.
 
Abraham’s son Isaac was the son of the covenant. You might recall, that when God tested Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, that God called him his only son, even though Ishamel was already born. God chose Abraham and God chose Isaac to be the one’s through whom He would keep His promise of sending a Messiah.
 
After Abraham had passed away, God reiterated His promise to Isaac. “1Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2And the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws’” (Gen. 26:1-5).
 
Let me point out, again, the parts of the threefold promise that God made to Abraham and reiterated to Isaac. First, He promised Abraham and now Isaac that He would give them the land, that is the promised land, the land that would, at least for a while, be known as Israel.
 
Second, God reiterated the promise He made to Abraham and now to Isaac that He would multiply his offspring. In other words, from Isaac, the son of Abraham, a great nation of people would come. Here again, this nation was and is the nation of Israel. And even though Israel had a rough history, a history that included idolatry and all forms of disobedience and even though the family of Israel had been divided into the tribes of Judah and the tribes of Israel, they were and are a great number of people. But, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that this great nation was simply a great nation by genetics. I have to mention this because God’s promise of a great nation was never simply a promise of a great physical nation, but always was in reference to an eternal, spiritual promise. We know this fact to be true, because Jesus reminds us that God can raise up children of Abraham from stones. The true nation of Israel is not the physical nation we know of today, but is the nation of all believers in Jesus. So, even if one is genetically a child of Abraham, unless s/he believes in Jesus, s/he is not a part of the true Israel.
 
Finally, the third part of the promise was that through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed. In other words, this was a reiteration of the promise of the Messiah being born through the line of Abraham and now Isaac. All nations, all people, past, present and future would be blessed with forgiveness earned by the Savior, born through the family line of Abraham, Isaac, and later Israel.
 
So, lest we get confused and begin to think there was more than one covenant, let us review what we have been hearing and seeing so far. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God stepped in and promised that He would take care of their sin, that He would send a Savior for all people, all nations. This first covenant was given in Eden, to Adam and Eve, before there were any other nations or cultures on the earth, before there was a Jew and a Gentile.
 
After a while, after the earth began to be populated, after the tower of Babel and the nations and cultures were scattered throughout the earth, God remembered His promise. So, God chose Abram, whose name He changed to Abraham and reiterated and narrowed the covenant He had made with Adam and Eve. God remembered His promise and would keep His promise and He would keep that promise by sending the Savior of all nations, of all peoples, of the world, through the line of Abraham.
 
And now, this evening we are reminded that God continued to remember and reiterate His one covenant as He now promises Isaac, that the line of the Messiah would also be through his family. Notice, not a new covenant, but a reiteration and a narrowing of the fulfillment of the one and only one covenant.
 
Again, I want to make sure we get this right, so here are the covenant facts, if you will. First, there was and is only one covenant. God did not give two covenants, one for Israel and one for the rest of the world. God gave one covenant.
 
The one covenant God gave was a covenant for all people, of all places, of all time. His covenant was first given to Adam and Eve, before there were all the nations and cultures we have today. The covenant was reiterated and its fulfillment narrowed through the line of Abraham.
 
Jesus came and fulfilled the covenant so that those who reject Jesus also reject the covenant. In other words, even if a person is born of the physical, genetic line of descent from Abraham, if that person rejects Jesus, that person is no longer considered a child of the covenant. God’s covenant is a covenant of grace, not genetics. It is by grace that we enjoy forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
 
Again, by faith in Jesus, faith given to us, we are children of Abraham, not by birth, not by genetics or DNA, but by grace. All nations are saved, are children of Abraham, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus alone. All people who reject Jesus, reject His covenant and reject forgiveness and life.
 
Thus, we are the new Israel. We are the heavenly and eternal Israel. The property over in the Middle East has nothing to do with the property of heaven. Being born of a certain genetic, DNA line means nothing. Being born again of water and God’s name means being born into the eternal family of heaven.
 
We are children of the covenant, by faith He gives to us. We rejoice because Jesus came for us. He came to live the perfect life for all of Israel and for us because they could not nor can we. Jesus came to fulfill all God’s promises and prophecies concerning the coming Messiah perfectly and then He took all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times on Himself and suffered and died paying the price for our sin. All because of His great love for us.
 
Today it is important that we continue to remember and follow God’s covenant because His covenant is a covenant, not based on human desire, need or work, but based on Jesus and His work of salvation for us. We need that constant reminder of our part in Jesus suffering and death. It was not only because of Adam and Eve’s sin, not only because the earth has been cursed, not only because we are conceived and born in sin, but also because of our own actual sins that Jesus had to come and die to pay the price for our sins.
 
Even before God began creation, He knew what was going to happen. Even before God began creation, He could look through time and He could see us, you and me. Because of His great love for us, for you and for me, He set into motion, not only creation, but also our redemption. Yes, you and I put Jesus on the cross. Yet, He went to the cross willingly because of His great love for us. At our Baptism He put faith in our hearts and made us His children. As we confess our sins and hear His words of absolution, as we hear His Holy Word read and proclaimed, as we partake of His body and blood in His Holy Supper, we are strengthened in our faith, we participate in His life, death and resurrection, and we will ultimately be given His robes of righteousness. And all we can do is rejoice and give Him thanks, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord - February 24, 2013 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Luke 13:31-35

The goal in most sporting events is for one team to outplay and outscore the other team, in other words, to defeat them in the game. The goal in most labor disputes, as each side looks at the dispute, is for each side to get their own way, which means one side wants more pay and benefits and the other side wants more work, output and profits. We live in a world and in a country where there is constant competition. People race to get in line first at the bank or grocery store. People race to get home from work. Christians race to get out of church early to beat the other Christians to Luby’s. People buy the newest cell phone, the newest Ipad computer, the newest car. People build bigger and better houses. Often we call this behavior, “keeping up with the Joneses.” Very often our goal in life is to stay one step ahead of the competition and everyone is competition. Well, let me tell you, we are no different than our ancestors. Even in Jesus’ day too many people were constantly looking out for “number one,” meaning only for themselves.

This morning we see more of the shenanigans of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were pretending to want to “help” and “save” Jesus by warning Him about Herod. They approached Jesus with some startling news, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31b). How nice of them to want to warn Jesus so that He might get out of town and not be killed by Herod. At first glance it looks more like they are Jesus’ friends than His enemies.

The problem with the Pharisees is that they constantly broke the first commandment, “You should have no other God’s before me.” Dr. Luther gives us the explanation for this commandment as, “we should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” Thus, whatever or whoever we fear above all things truly is our God. In the case of the Pharisees their fear was a fear of man rather than a fear of God. Jesus was rather popular with the people and that was making it hard for them, since, in essence, they were afraid of the people. If God was their God, that is, if God the Father in heaven was their God, then they would have been more concerned about His will than about their popularity with the people.

The Pharisees approached Jesus, not out of concern for Him, but because they wanted just to be rid of Him. If He was not around then maybe the people would forget about Him and maybe He would not be so popular and maybe they would be more popular and people would listen to them. So here, under the guise of wanting to help Jesus, wanting to show that they really do care about Him, they are warning Him that Herod is out for His blood. If Jesus would leave, this would accomplish both their “show” of concern and the getting rid of Jesus.

What about us? What about you and me? Of what or of whom are we afraid? Are we more concerned about our own popularity or doing what is popular, or are we more concerned about doing the will of our God? Are we more concerned about being perceived as being tolerant or about proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, that God does not tolerate belief in anyone or anything other than Himself and that He does not tolerate sin? Are we more concerned about what other people think of us or about what God thinks of us? Are we more concerned about our lives on this earth, our time in this world, or our eternal existence in heaven? Are we more afraid of other humans or God? Yes, all of these are First Commandment question.

In our text we see that Jesus is not afraid. He calls Herod a fox, because He is sly, cruel, and destructive. Herod is the one who had Jesus’ cousin and forerunner, John the Baptist, beheaded. Herod is the one who married his brother Phillip’s wife even though this was wrong and it was a sin. One of my Bible Dictionary’s says this about Herod, “His administration was characterized throughout with cunning and crime, intensely selfish and utterly destitute of principle” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary p. 472). Yes, Herod was a fox.

Even though Herod is so great a sinner, even though Herod might be out to get Him, Jesus is not afraid of Herod and will continue to do the work He came to do, until it is finished, until He reaches His goal. And His goal is to save the world. Our sin separates us from God and our sin is ever before us. We show our idolatry in that we are more afraid of others than we are of God. We are more interested in our own concerns than those of God and we see this in how we live as well as in the decisions we make. Yes, our sin separates us from God and left in our sin we would be doomed to die an eternal spiritual death in hell.

Jesus goal is to save all people, thus His goal is to die. We see Him allude to this goal in our text when He says that, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:33b). The only way Jesus could have been any clearer would be to outright say, “I will die in Jerusalem.” From creation and the fall into sin by Adam and Eve, and from His physical birth into this world, Jesus had the cross ever before Him. Ever since the Garden of Eden, the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell has been hanging over us and Jesus goal is save us, in other words, His goal is to die, to die, once and for all, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, for you and for me, so that we might not have to suffer eternal spiritual death, but so that we might have life, even eternal life with Him in heaven.

And so, Jesus is grieved. He is grieved over the sins of His own people, the children of Israel. He is grieved because they have not lived as they were asked to live, instead they have constantly rebelled against Him. Instead of fearing God they have feared other nations. Instead of fearing God they have feared each other. Instead of fearing God they have gone running after other gods and idols. And Jesus is grieved because of their sins. His goal was to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings in order to protect them, but they were not willing, instead they refused, resisted, and rejected Him.

Jesus is grieved not only for the sins of His own people, but the sins of the world as well. He is grieved because the world does not live as it is asked to live, instead it constantly rebels against Him. Instead of fearing God the people of the world fear other people. We see this in the competition of national and world powers, in the wars and rumors of war which are happening around the world. Instead of fearing God the people of the world fear each other. Instead of fearing God the people of the world go running after the other false gods and idols of this world. And Jesus is grieved because of the sins of the world. His goal was to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings in order to protect them, but they were not willing, instead they refused, resisted, and rejected Him.

Jesus is grieved not only for the sins of His own people and the sins of the world, but our sins as well. He is grieved because we do not live as we are asked to live, instead we constantly rebel against Him. Instead of fearing God we fear other people and what other people might think. We fear losing our status in society, we fear losing our positions of power and influence, and yes, even in the church we fear losing our perceived positions of status, power and authority. Instead of fearing God we fear each other. We see this in the competition among Christians, constantly working at odds with each other, pointing the finger at who is not doing what and who is doing what, instead of working together. Instead of fearing God we go running after the other false gods and idols of our own world. And Jesus is grieved because of our sins. His goal is to gather us together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings in order to protect us, but too often we are not willing, instead we refuse, resist, and rejected Him.

Jesus goal is the salvation of all people, of all places, of all times. His goal is to save you and me. He will accomplish His goal, and He did accomplish His goal. As we journey with Him through the Gospels we see that He did signs, wonders and miracles as “proof” of His divinity, that He was the Messiah. Jesus is the one promised in the Old Testament. He is the one who came to do all things for all people. He came to fulfill all the Old Testament promises and prophecies. He came as the embodiment of Israel, to do all things, all that the whole nation of Israel could not do, He came to do perfectly. He came as the embodiment of all people, even and especially, He came to do for us, for you and for me, what we are unable to do, live perfectly according to all His commands and decrees. Yes, Jesus is the Messiah, He is who He says He is.

Not only do we believe Jesus because of the signs, wonders and miracles He performed, but we also believe Him because He is His own authority. We believe Him because He says He is our Savior, our Messiah. We believe Him because the Holy Spirit has given us that faith through the very means He has given to give us faith, His Word and Holy Baptism. It is especially through the Bible which is God’s Word, a word of authority that we are given faith and so we believe Him and we “fear, love and trust in Him above all things.”

Jesus took all our sins upon Himself and suffered and died the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. He died that we might live. He is faithful and just. We see His justness in the fact that the wages, the cost, the price for sin was paid. The price for sin is eternal spiritual death and He is the one who died the eternal spiritual death penalty for all people. We see His faithfulness in the fact that what He did He did because of His love for us and His promise to us, His promise to save us from our sins, His promise first made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

What is your goal in life? Is your goal in life defined by the things of this world? Or is your goal in life defined by things above? Is your goal in life defined by what or whom you are afraid, the things or people of this world? Or is you goal in life defined by your fear, love and trust in God above all things? Rest assured my friends, Jesus’ goal was to save you and He accomplished His goal, thanks be to God. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will continue to work through His Word and Sacraments to give you all His good gifts and blessings, forgiveness, faith, strengthening of faith, life and salvation and that He will continue to work through these means to guard and keep you in faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit, also working through these means, to guide you into a life lived to His glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Covenant to Abram - Lent Mid-week 2 - February 20, 2013 - Text: Genesis 12:1-3

Our text for this evening is Genesis 12:1-3: “1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This is our text.
 
This year during the season of Lent and Easter we are following the thread of God’s promise to send a Savior for all people (one covenant, not two). Last week began in the Garden of Eden when God first made His promise to send a Savior to Adam and Eve, before there was a Jew or Gentile. This week we continue with the reiteration of the covenant and the announcement of its fulfillment being narrowed, that is that the Savior of all nations would be born through the line of Abram whose name was later changed to Abraham.
 
We begin this evening with a bit of a review of history. Last week we talked about God’s creation of the universe and especially His creation of our earth as well as the first humans, Adam and Eve. God crowned His creation with the creation of Adam and Eve and He put them in a garden that He had especially created for them, the Garden of Eden. However, following their disobedience and sin, and because the tree of life was still growing in the Garden of Eden and so they would not eat of its fruit and live forever in their sin, God put them out of the Garden.
 
Now remember, God had promised that He would send a Savior, a seed of Eve, one born as a human, except without sin, in order to save the world, by taking the punishment for their sin. But God was not quite ready to fulfill His promise and as we can see, reading the history of the world, the sin of the world magnified with the birth of each new generation. Adam and Eve had many children and two in particular that we read about are Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel were important figures in our genealogy because their story helps us to understand how sinful the world was and it was even getting worse. Remember the story of Cain and Abel, how Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous and his jealousy turned into hatred and finally murder.
 
Well, as time went on, the world got worse and worse and worse until God decided that He had seen enough from this world which became sin infected and continued on its path to self-destruction. God decided to destroy the world and He would do that by sending a flood to cleanse the world. At the same time, God recognized the righteousness of Noah and so from Noah and his family God decided to repopulate the earth by saving them through the flood.
 
Yet, even after the flood and as the numbers of people again increased on the earth, sin continued to abound and increase. At one point the people of the world, after disobeying God’s command to spread out and subdue the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, at one point because the people failed to spread out, believing themselves to be gods so much that they decided to build a tower to themselves, one which would reach to the skies and show the nations and generations what great people they were. Yet, God would not allow this to happen and so He came down and confused the languages of the people so that they had to scatter to the various parts of the world taking with them certain knowledge and genetic coding which accounts for the various cultures we see in the world today.
 
As time went on, God continued to watch over and remember His people. As the populations of the world continued to grow, sin continued to grow as well. And yet, God never forgot His covenant to send a Savior. As a matter of fact, God remembered His covenant with the world and as He looked at His world, and in particular, at the timing of the events of the world, by His grace, out of all the people who were now alive in the world, God chose Abram. God chose Abram to be the one through whom He would fulfill His covenant.
 
Now please notice that God did not change or alter His covenant, the covenant He made with Adam and Eve and the world in the Garden of Eden, the covenant that He would send a Savior to take the punishment for their sin and our sin. When God chose Abram He was simply narrowing down the line of fulfillment of His covenant. In other words, God was simply reiterating His covenant with Abram that He would fulfill His covenant with Mary and Joseph through His family tree. God did not change the covenant, nor make a new covenant.
 
God came to and called Abram. Abram did not approach God nor initiate anything. It was God who came to and called Abram and said, “1 . . . ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
 
Notice God’s promise to Abram. God’s promise was to make him a great nation. Please understand that this did not necessarily mean a great nation by genetics, in other words it was not simply physically born humans that were to be a part of the great nation of Israel. We know today that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, as Jesus Himself tells us, we too are children of Abraham.
 
God promised Abram that he will be a blessing and indeed Abram was a blessing. He was a blessing for all those of his household as he cared for many people. But even more, he was a blessings, because through him all nations of the world were to be blessed. In other words, the Savior of all nations would be born through the line of Abram. And this is the line and the covenant that we are following and will continue to follow during lent.
 
Today God’s covenant made with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden continues to be remembered. The Christian faith and the Christian church goes back to the Garden of Eden when God promised to send a Savior. In Jesus’ day and even today, those children of Abram who rejected and who continue to reject Jesus are the ones who reject His covenant. The religion of Judaism was begun immediately following Jesus death and resurrection by those who refuse and reject Jesus’ Himself. The Christian faith was not born at the time of Christ, the religion of Judaism was born out of its rejection of Jesus. Thus, those who rejected Jesus are no longer children of Abram, no longer children of the covenant, because they have rejected the covenant.
 
Likewise, all who believe in Jesus as the Messiah are children of Abram. You and I are children of Abraham, not because we are born from the genetic line of Abraham, not because of some innate goodness within us, but by faith in Jesus and because God has made it so.
 
We are children of the covenant, by faith He gives to us. We rejoice because Jesus came for us. He came to live the perfect life for all of Israel and for us because they could not nor can we. Jesus came to fulfill all God’s promises and prophecies concerning the coming Messiah perfectly and then He took all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times on Himself and suffered and died paying the price for our sin. All because of His great love for us.
 
Today it is important that we continue to remember and follow God’s covenant because His covenant is a covenant, not based on human desire, DNA, genetics, need or work, but a covenant based on Jesus and His work of salvation for us. We need that constant reminder of our part in Jesus suffering and death. It was not only because of Adam and Eve’s sin, not only because the earth has been cursed, not only because we are conceived and born in sin, but also because of our own actual sins that Jesus had to come and die to pay the price for our sins, which He did freely because of His great love for us.
 
We see God’s great love for us because even before He began creation, He knew what was going to happen. Even before God began creation, He could look through time and He could see us, you and me. Because of His great love for us, for you and for me, He set into motion, not only creation, but also our redemption. Yes, you and I put Jesus on the cross. Yet, He went to the cross willingly because of His great love for us. At our Baptism He put faith in our hearts and made us His children. As we confess our sins and hear His words of absolution, as we hear His Holy Word read and proclaimed, as we partake of His body and blood in His Holy Supper, we are strengthened in our faith, we participate in His life, death and resurrection, and we are given His robes of righteousness. And all we can do is rejoice and give Him thanks, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Temptation of Jesus - February 17, 2012 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: Luke 4:1-13

Today is the First Sunday in Lent. We began our Lenten Season Wednesday, which was Ash Wednesday, and now we begin the Sunday’s of Lent by beginning with the temptation of Jesus. Certainly this is fitting, meat, right and salutary, we might say, because the reason Jesus came to earth was to do for us all things that we are unable to do and one of those all things is to resist temptation and not sin. First, then, we want to put our text into its proper context. This text of the temptation of Jesus comes immediately following the genealogy of Jesus which declares Jesus to be the son of Adam, a true human being, and the son of God, truly God. This order of events is very important, because it establishes the fact that Jesus was tempted as a human being, as one of us. His being tempted as one of us is how He is our substitute, that is that He was tempted for us, in our place. He resisted temptation for us, in our place, because we are unable to do so. This morning we walk with Jesus as He suffers temptation, temptation like we suffer and even worse temptation, for you see, the weight of the salvation of the whole world is resting on Jesus’ shoulders as He undergoes His temptation.
 
Luke describes this first temptation, “1And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ 4And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’” (v. 1-4).
 
Notice that it was for the whole forty days that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. What we have before us are the “greatest hits” (if you will) of the devil’s temptations. In this first temptation we see the devil has not come up with any new temptations, he is merely reusing the first ones he used years ago, in the Garden of Eden. These temptations worked in the Garden so why not use them again and he does, but with a new twist. The deception and lie told to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was, “Did God really say...,” and now is translated and used on Jesus as, “If you are the Son of God...”
 
Notice the devil’s attempt to plant seeds of doubt in Jesus’ mind and heart and notice the challenge to Jesus. Today we, you and I, hear such temptations with questions like, “Does the Bible really say that?” or “Did God really mean that?” or “Do you really trust in God?” or even “I dare you to trust in God.” Today we live in a society which continually challenges us to live by faith. We know and believe that God has provided for all our needs up to this point in our lives, our physical needs and our spiritual need, but, and here is the temptation to doubt, will He continue to do so and how do you know? Can you trust God in His Word? For Jesus the temptation was even greater. The devil was challenging Him as to whether or not He really is God and can He really save us? Satan is suggesting that Jesus can rest assured that He is God by simply telling the stones to become bread. A simple miracle and one which would also provide food for Him to eat, yet at the heart of this temptation is a lack of trust in God the Father.
 
Jesus’ answer is Scripture, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” And with those words of Scripture the devil’s first temptation is dismantled. Here we are reminded of Paul’s description of the armor of the Christian (Eph. 6:10-18) and the one offensive weapon which we Christians wield, the sword of the Word of God. The devil cannot stand up to the Word of God and so He is summarily defeated in this temptation attempt. But, although Jesus has won this battle, the war is not yet over.
 
Luke describes the second temptation, “5And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ 8And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”’” (v. 5-8).
 
In this second temptation we see the audacity of the devil, thinking he is God himself. He takes Jesus up to a place where, in an instant, he shows Him all the kingdoms of the world. Actually these kingdoms and all things already belong to Jesus, yet the devil’s temptation is that he will give up his rights to all these kingdoms if Jesus will worship him. This is a temptation to Jesus to forgo the suffering and death on the cross. Suffering and death which, most certainly, were always on His mind. The devil’s temptation, “Why go about saving the world the hard way? Why not do this one little thing of bowing down to the devil and he will give up all his rights to all the kingdoms of the world?”
 
How often do we find ourselves tempted to do the easy thing in life, to take the easy way out? We are tempted to compromise our faith, to suggest that the Christian religion is only one way of many ways to heaven. We are tempted to “just get along.” We are tempted to be tolerant of other people’s lifestyles, religions, habits and sins. We are tempted to believe that there is a difference between a big sin and a little sin and that a little sin might be okay. We too are tempted to bow down and worship the devil with his promise that he will then make it easy for us. Satan’s deception to Jesus is his deception to us. He would have us believe that he is God.
 
Jesus’ answer is, again, Holy Scripture, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and, and him only shall you serve.’” And again, the devil cannot stand up to the Word of God and so he is summarily defeated in this temptation attempt. But, again, although Jesus has won this battle, the war is still not yet over.
 
Luke describes the third temptation, “9And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,  to guard you,” 11and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’ 12And Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ 13And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (v. 9-12).
 
Well, it worked twice for Jesus, so this time the devil turns to the Word of God to use against Him. In this temptation, along with the temptation to test Jesus faith in God the Father’s faithfulness to His Word, we also have a temptation to grandeur. If Jesus will throw Himself off the temple and everyone sees that He is not hurt, the crowds will throng after Him. And certainly Jesus believes His Father will protect Him, the devil urges.
 
“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull” we are told in our world today. How often do we try to be “super Christians” to our unchurched family and friends, thinking that what they need to see is how invulnerable we are as Christians, then, we think, they will want to be a Christian too. Yes, the devil tempts us too to delusions of grandeur in our efforts at sharing our faith with others, so that when we fail we get discouraged and we might lose hope as well.
 
Jesus’ answer, again, this third time is Holy Scripture, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And again, for the third time, the devil cannot stand up to the Word of God and so He is summarily defeated in this temptation attempt. But, again, although Jesus has won this battle and these three battles, the war is still not yet over. During Jesus’ life the devil was constantly tempting Jesus and always standing by in case Jesus should fall.
 
The question often comes, “so, why do we have the account of the temptations of Jesus?” As we have alluded to, Jesus came to live for us which means, suffering temptation as we suffer temptation. Yet with Jesus’ temptation the stakes were so much higher, because, if Jesus had succumb to the devils temptation our faith would be useless. We would have no hope.
 
Jesus resisted temptation for us, in our place, as our substitute. Jesus came as Israel’s substitute. The Israelites were God’s chosen people. They were to follow His laws perfectly and to be His people, yet they messed up. Time and again they messed up. They were not able to be the people of God that He wanted them to be. Jesus came as the true Israel. Jesus came to do what the whole nation of Israel could not do, follow God’s laws perfectly.
 
Jesus did not come just to save His own people, the children of Israel. Jesus came to save us also. We are called to be the children of God, Christians, and we are to follow God’s Word and yet we too fail. We are unable to live and do as we ought. And so, Jesus came for us. Jesus came to do everything perfectly for us in our place. Our sin separates us from God and left in our sin we would have no hope, only eternal spiritual death. Faith is what grabs hold of and makes God’s gifts ours. Unbelief is rejection of God’s gifts. Unbelief means eternal separation, faith means eternal life.
 
In our text we see Jesus’ use of Scripture as an example for us, not that we use Scripture against Scripture, but that Scripture interprets Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word. It is the sword which we use to fight the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh, the unholy three as we learned them in confirmation. We use Holy Scripture, not to justify our sin, but to overcome temptation and sin.
 
Finally, Jesus helps us resist sin and temptation. We do not imagine that we can overcome temptation and sin on our own like Jesus does, but understand that because Jesus overcame temptation and sin that now He helps us to overcome temptation and sin. And of course, the ultimate overcoming of sin was His suffering and death on the cross for us, for you and for me, in our place, because of our sin and our inability to resist temptation and sin.
 
The question is not “if” we will be tempted, but “how often” and “how great is the temptation with which” we are tempted in a day. My prayer for us, for each one of us, for you and for me, is that God the Holy Spirit will lead us to take up the sword of the Word of God against temptation and sin and that we would then faithfully confess the Lord’s name in every circumstance! Yes, we have Jesus’ example of how He overcame temptation and sin, yet we must never think that, in and of ourselves, we might be able to emulate Jesus example. Instead, we will always want to go to Jesus to seek His help in all times of temptation, knowing that as He overcame, so He will help us in our time of need to overcome. He will bring us the victory, which He has already accomplished. And when we do fail and we will fail, He is there ready to give out the forgiveness He earned for us. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The First Promise to Adam and Eve - Ash Wednesday - February 13, 2013 - Text: Genesis 3:15

Our text for this evening is Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is our text.
 
This year during the season of Lent and Easter we will follow the thread of God’s promise to send a Savior for all people, demonstrating that, contrary to the new theology of millennialism which teachs that God made a separate covenant with Israel than with the rest of the world, that God made one covenant with all people, a covenant of grace and faith. We will begin in the Garden of Eden when God first made His promise to Adam and Eve, before there was a Jew or Gentile. We will follow that covenant reiterated and its fulfillment narrowed, that is that the Savior of all nations would be born through the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and so forth. We will then move to see the fulfillment of that promise in the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist as the way preparer, as well as in the announcement of Jesus birth to Mary, and Simeon’s words of prophecy to Mary and Joseph at the presentation of Jesus. Finally, we will rejoice on Easter in the fact that Jesus was the Savior of all nations, including all people, you and me and in His resurrection as the ultimate fulfillment and defeat of sin, death and the Devil.
 
This evening we begin, interestingly enough, in the beginning. In the beginning God created all things out of nothing. Talk about the power of the Word of God, God spoke, “Let there be . . . ” and it was. God said, “Earth,” and there was earth. Today we may wonder how God could have created all things in six days. In Luther’s day the questions was why did God take so long. God is God and He can do whatever He wants. In His Word He, who was there, tells us how He did it.
 
On the sixth day of creation God crowned His creation with the creation of the man and woman. Adam was created in the image of God meaning that he was, originally, created perfect and holy, without sin. All Adam knew was good. He did not know evil nor what evil was.
 
After creating Adam and Eve, God put the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden which He had created especially for them. The Garden of Eden was a place for Adam and Eve to live. It was a place that provided for all their needs. It was a place in which they could work, reminding us that work was not a result of sin, but was, in the beginning, a gift from God.
 
God created everything and gave everything to Adam and Eve. Notice that, like us, Adam and Eve had nothing of their own, but only all that they had was a gift from God. So, along with all that God created, in the Garden He placed two trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God placed these trees in the garden and I would suppose that in order to give Adam and Eve something to give back to Him, because, again, nothing was theirs except what God had first given to them, God gave them the command and the ability to obey His command to not eat from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And remember, Adam and Eve only knew good.
 
So, at the end of day six, God rested on Day Seven and everything was perfect. Here I always like to point out that when God is running the show, creating, making, forming, and so forth that everything is indeed good, very good, perfect and holy. It is not until man starts running the show that, as we will see, everything starts falling apart.
 
Which brings us to the fall into sin. Earlier, sometime between God’s creating the angels and His creating the world, one angel, Lucifer, which means the Light Bearer, or Satan as he has become known, rebelled against God. Perhaps he thought himself to be on par with his Creator and so God created hell for Satan and cast him out of heaven. However, for whatever reason, only God knows, He still allowed Satan to roam about, seeking someone to devour.
 
Satan took the form of one of God’s creatures, a serpent, and according to the text, the serpent was not what it is today, but Satan taking the form a of a serpent tempted Eve and in tempting Eve he also tempted Adam who was standing right beside Eve watching the whole series of events as they unfolded. Satan tempted Eve to doubt God, to believe that God was holding back from her, as it would seem he believed about God prior to his own rebellion. Satan tempted Eve to believe she could be like God herself.
 
Eve believed Satan, and why should she not believe, after all she only knew good. She did not yet know evil and lying. Eve believed Satan and doubted God and ate of the forbidden fruit, she also gave some to her husband Adam who also ate thus he too disobeyed and sinned. Adam had been created first and so he was the one in authority, the one who was responsible in this whole scenario. We call this the order of creation, that is that God created Adam first and so God would hold him accountable. This order of creation has never been negated and is still in effect in our world today. Adam’s disobedience began with the fact that he did not step in and send Satan off in the first place. Like many men and husbands in our world today, Adam shirked his responsibility. And fortunately or unfortunately, none of these events escaped God.
 
God knew what had happened. He knew Eve and Adam had been disobedient and so being a just God He entered the scene to disperse justice, which came in the form of a curse. God came walking through the Garden and He came calling for Adam. Adam where are you? It was Adam who was in charge as He was created first and so God calls him to account for his actions and the actions of his wife, Eve. Of course, Adam does what most men do today, he passes the buck and blames his wife, Eve and truly even blames God Himself for having put the woman in the Garden with him. Eve blames the serpent and so the buck is passed on.
 
God is God and so He cannot be deceived. God knows what has happened and now He must deal out the just punishment, which was promised, death. The curse which is inflicted on all creation is that Adam will now have to work hard, because thorns and thistles will grow and stifle his gardening. Eve will have pain in her most joyous experience, childbirth, and she will continue to struggle with her husband, seeking to usurp his authority. And the serpent will be changed so that now he will have to slither on the ground and eat dust.
 
Yet, God being not only just but also being a merciful God, He also gives a promise, even the greatest promise, that is that He will fix what man has broke. Man has broken his relationship, his perfect relationship with God and now only God can fix that relationship and His promise is that He will.
 
God’s  promise is to send a Savior, a Messiah, One who would take care of the punishment inflicted on those who disobeyed and ate of the forbidden fruit, that is One who would die. God’s promise is, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;  he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God’s promise is that He would send a substitute to take the place and the punishment for His people. A substitute means someone who is like the one being substituted. In other words, the substitute for human beings will be a human being, thus an offspring of the woman. In order for this substitute to be a substitute, however, He must also be perfect, having no sin of His own, thus He would also have to be truly God, because only God is or can be perfect. Finally, this substitute, in order to complete His substitutionary act, must not only die, suffering a bruising death, physical and eternal spiritual death, hell, but He will also have to defeat Satan, with a complete defeat.
 
Notice that God’s promise to Adam and Eve came before they had any children, which means this promise was made before there was a Jew or Gentile and so His promise was for all people, of all places, of all times, you and me included.
 
As Lent begins we are reminded once again, as we are or at least should be reminded every year, of our part in Jesus’ suffering and death. It was not only because of Adam and Eve’s sin, not only because the earth has been cursed, not only because we are conceived and born in sin, but also because of our own actual sins, sins we commit, sins of commission and sins of failing or omitting to do as we should, sins of omission, that Jesus had to come and die to pay the price for our sins.
 
Even before God began creation, He knew what was going to happen. Even before God began creation, He could look through time and He could see us, you and me, we call this God’s foreknowledge, that He knows all things even before they happen. Because of His great love for us, for you and for me, He set into motion, not only creation, but also our redemption. Yes, you and I put Jesus on the cross. Yet, He went to the cross willingly because of His great love for us. At our Baptism He put faith in our hearts and made us His children. As we confess our sins and hear His words of absolution, as we hear His Holy Word read and proclaimed, as we partake of His body and blood in His Holy Supper, we are strengthened in our faith, we participate in His life, death and resurrection, and we are given His robes of righteousness. And all we can do is rejoice and give Him thanks, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Transfiguration - February 10, 2013 - Transfiguration Sunday - Text: Luke 9:28-36

According to our church year calendar, today is a special day. Today is what we have come to call Transfiguration Sunday. This morning we have the opportunity to get a glimpse of Jesus’ relationship with His special friends, Peter, James and John, the three closest disciples who are often known as Jesus’ inner circle. What a treat they received on the mountain of transfiguration, even if they did not realize it at the time.
 
So, let us get right to our text. Our text begins by telling us that about eight days had gone by since the last events had taken place. Since the Epiphany season is short this year, we have skipped some events so, we might well ask, what were those last events. Those last events were the questioning of the disciples by Jesus concerning His identity, who other people thought He was and who His own disciples believed Him to be. Those last events included Peter’s confession for himself and his fellow disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Now, after these eight days we are told that Jesus took, what we have called, His inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John with Him, up on the mountain for the purpose of spending time in prayer. Certainly we see this as an example and a teaching for these disciples, and us of the importance of prayer. Jesus spent much of His time in prayer with His Father in heaven. If Jesus, who is true God, needed to spend time in prayer, how much more do we, in our own lives, need to spend time in prayer and Divine Service.
 
As Jesus was praying, we are told; and we are not necessarily told that Peter, James and John were praying, and perhaps that was their downfall; but as Jesus was praying, Peter, James and John fell asleep (v. 32). If this were simply a book of literature we may be told that this may be a foreshadowing of things to come. Remember, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus was in prayer on the night in which He was betrayed, the disciples fell asleep there as well.
 
Anyway, while they slept, Jesus was transfigured, He was changed. The appearance of His face was altered and His clothes became dazzling white.  And He then met with Moses and Elijah. Remember, Jesus came to this earth, after giving up the glory that was His in heaven. He came as true God in human flesh in order to do for us what we are unable, in and of ourselves to do. Jesus came to live perfectly for us, in our place. Jesus came to obey all of God’s laws perfectly for us in our place, because we are unable, according to our inborn sinful nature to do so. And so, here come Moses and Elijah, we might say, to check up on Jesus. So, Jesus met Moses, the Law giver to make sure He had fulfilled all the Law, perfectly.
 
And Jesus met with Elijah. Elijah was one of the most revered prophets, at least during Jesus’ life. It was not the case during his own life. Yet, here is Elijah, the Prophet to make sure that Jesus had fulfilled all the prophecies, all the promises of God, perfectly.
 
I am sure that one of the things they discussed with Jesus was His departure, that is, His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. Remember, back at Christmas we were reminded that this cute, precious baby whose birth we celebrated in a manger, this cute baby was born for one purpose, to die. Jesus came to restore our broken relationship with God the Father. The only way to restore that relationship was to pay the price for what broke that relationship. Sin broke our relationship with God the Father. Yes, Adam and Eve’s sin, but also our own sin. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. And in and of ourselves, we are unable to restore our relationship with our Father in heaven. That is why Jesus came. Jesus was born, in the shadow of the cross. Jesus always had the cross in front of Him. And now, here, talking with Moses and Elijah, He was making sure that all things were in place for His death.
 
Finally, the disciples woke up. They saw Jesus in all His glory. They saw the two men, Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus. And notice that here too we get another glimpse of heaven and what heaven will be like. Notice that Peter does not have to ask, but he knows that this is Moses and Elijah as he proposes to build shelters, tents for Jesus, for Moses and for Elijah. How awesome, in heaven we will not need name tags. We will know everyone and we will be known by everyone.
 
And we are told that Peter made his suggestions about building the three shelters because he did not know what to say. Peter simply wanted to continue this wonderful “mountain top” experience. I believe that if we were in the same situation, we might have the same idea as Peter.
 
Moses and Elijah departed and we are told that a cloud enveloped them and then they heard the voice of God the Father from the cloud, testifying of Jesus, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” And then Jesus spoke and the disciples found themselves alone again with Jesus.
 
What a wonderful, grand, even mountain top experience. The disciples, Peter, James and John, had the opportunity to see Jesus in His heavenly glory, right here on earth. Certainly that was a sight to see. Unfortunately, for their sake, they were not able to share this event with the rest of the disciples, nor with anyone until after Jesus’ resurrection. As we are told, as they went down the mountain Jesus told them to tell no one about this event until after His ascension.
 
Okay, So what? First of all, we know that Jesus is truly human. He is a man, born of a woman. He is human just like you and me, except for one important detail, He never sinned. The reason Jesus was born as human was so that He could do for us what we are unable to do. We are conceived and born in sin. He was conceived and born in perfection. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. He never sinned and has no need of forgiveness. We are separated from God the Father. Ours is a broken relationship, broken in the Garden of Eden and broken every time we sin. And we do sin. We break the commandments on a daily, if not hourly bases. Remember, if we only sinned thirty times a day, as a conservative estimate, times 365 days in a year, that is over 10,000 sins a year, times how old we are and we see that our sins add up. We cannot save ourselves. Left to ourselves we would be liable for all our sins, the price of which is death, even eternal spiritual death. Jesus shows He is human because we see Him get tired and hungry, have emotions as He cried for His friends, and so forth. Jesus is truly human and this is important so that He might be our substitute, that is so that He might give His life for ours.
 
Not only is Jesus truly human, He is truly divine, that is, He is God. Jesus is God in flesh. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, making Him truly divine. He shows that He is divine through the signs, wonders and miracles He performed, healing, casting out demons, raising the dead, walking on water, and so on. It is important that Jesus is truly God, because only God could do the things that Jesus did. It is important that He is God so that He might live perfectly for us.
 
As Christians, and as sinful human beings, we acknowledge that apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus we have no hope, only eternal separation from Jesus and eternal spiritual death. Even more important than our earthly relationships with family and friend, is our relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
At Christmas we celebrated the birth of the Christ child, born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger. At that time we were reminded that the baby was born for a purpose and that purpose was to suffer and die for our sins on the cross. That was God’s plan of salvation. This morning we continue to see God’s plan of salvation being worked out through Jesus. How does this salvation become ours? How do we gain access to God’s good gifts and blessings? Simple, God gives salvation and all His gifts and blessing to us. Jesus earned forgiveness on the cross and He gives it to us along with all His gifts and blessings. He gives them to you and He gives them to me. He gives them to us through the means that He has given us and that is through His means of Grace. Through the Word of God, which is not like any other book, but is a book with power and authority. Through His Word He gives us His good gifts and blessings. As we read and hear His Word, it does what it says, it gives forgiveness, it gives faith, it strengthens and keeps us in faith. And through His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means our Lord comes to give us His good gifts and blessings. And through confession and absolution our Lord gives us what He says, forgiveness of sins.
 
There is only one way to get to heaven and that is by being perfect. Thus, left to ourselves we would not have a chance. It is only as we are given forgiveness of sins, earned by Jesus’ perfect life, perfect suffering, death, and resurrection that we are given forgiveness. Thus, it is so important that we daily repent in order to daily be given His forgiveness which results in life and salvation. And He gives us this forgiveness through confession and absolution, through His Word and through Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which remind us of how important it is that we make regular and diligent use of these means, each and every Sunday and as often as offered, even during the Wednesday mid-week services of Lent and Advent.
 
To encourage us in our Christian faith and life, this morning we get a glimpse of Jesus’ glory and the glory which will be ours. The glory with which He will robe us, with His robes of righteousness when He gathers us and all the saints on the last day.
 
What is left? Simply giving thanks and praise. Everything has been done, for us and in our place. Jesus has accomplished everything for us. There is nothing left for us to do except give thanks to the Lord for all His good gifts and blessings. Certainly, we may refuse His gifts and we do that by not confessing our sins, not reading His Word, not being in Divine Service and Bible Class. Yet, our Lord continues to be patient, loving and forgiving. He is always working to draw us to Himself through His Word and Sacraments. May the Lord continue to work on you and in your life, calling you to faith, giving you faith, strengthening and keeping you in faith until Christ comes again. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How To Grow St. Matthew Lutheran Church - February 2013 Newsletter

There are two possible ways to grow St. Matthew Lutheran Church. One way is what I would call a secular way, and the other is the Lutheran Biblical way. The secular way has been tried, even by our own district and synod and in my own opinion has been seen to fail. Please understand that I will be describing this secular way rather simplistically (I like to put things in simple terms for myself) and that those who espouse this position would probably disagree with my assessment. This secular way was once called “Church Growth,” but because it did not work, the false presuppositions of this movement have been relabeled as a “Missional” movement. Do not be deceived, these are the same ideas that come out of a sociological understanding that if you do certain social things, people will come to your church. And yes, this premise is true, if you do certain things, such as offer a free car, have enough parking spaces, have enough seats, etc, people will come to your church however; the Church is not simply a social gathering, and it is not for simple social reasons that the Church grows and is the Church. Both the “Church Growth” and “Missional” movements, while sounding very good after all who would not want the church to grow and who would not want to be mission-minded both fail not only in Lutheran Doctrine but in Biblical teaching. Actually they fail because of a lack of confession, that is a lack of understanding the need for pure doctrine (see what God told the Children of Israel when they moved into the promised land). Both these movements have at the heart a false teaching that people are the means of grace. In other words, it is people, you and me who go out and convert others to make them Christians. Now certainly, it is true that social means will bring people to church; however, once in church, and once they hear Law and Gospel, those who have been drawn for social reasons will often find that these teachings are not what they want to hear. What they want to hear is what their itching ears want to hear how good they are and how they can continue to do and believe as they want and that they are saved anyway. Or they find other churches, denominations that can do social church better. Thus, I would suggest neither of these is the way to grow our church.
 
The Church is God’s people given faith by God, and that faith given by God is also nurtured, strengthened and grown by God through the very means He has given to give, nurture, strengthen and grow, His means of grace. Please understand that this growth of the Church has nothing to do with how many bodies show up on any given Sunday morning but has everything to do with one’s heart and faith. For the Church to truly grow it must be saturated, permeated, overflowing with the means of grace. In other words, in order for the Church to grow, the members of the Church must be filled with the gifts God gives to the point of overflowing so they then spill out those gifts onto others. So, how does that overflowing look?
 
In the real estate business it is said that there are three things that are needed to be successful at selling a property, and those three things are location, location, location. I would suggest that in order for a church to grow there are three things that are needed, and they are vocation, vocation, vocation.
 
The first step in growing a church is understanding the importance of Divine Service. The Divine Service is for Christians; it is not an evangelistic event. Certainly a non-Christian might attend a Divine Service, and we would do well to invite our unchurched family and friends, but the main purpose of Divine Service is that it is God’s Service to us. Our Divine Service is the place we come to be given the gifts God gives, to be filled so that we might be able to go out and give an answer for the hope that we have in our Savior, Christ the Lord. When we neglect to be in Divine Service, our actions speak that this Service is unimportant and not necessary. And to God our actions say, “No, thank You,” to the gifts God has to give. Why would anyone want to attend or be a part of a church that its own members do not want to attend? So, in order to grow our church we must first want to grow in our own faith life by being in Divine Service, and I would add in Bible Class and Bible Study as well, as these are also opportunities to be fed, grow in our faith, and strengthen in our ability to be ready to give an answer, a defense for our faith.
 
The second step in growing a church is understanding the importance of your vocation. Contrary to the popular notion, not everyone is a minister, but everyone is a priest (notice, small “p”). Remember that God calls us to life at conception. He calls us to faith at Baptism. And He calls us to our vocation with some men called into the Office of Holy Ministry. God calls us all into vocation which is that we are priests. Remember also that the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices, and the sacrifices we offer are our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord (Rom. 12:1). We all live our lives in various vocations at the same time, such as husband, father, brother, uncle, son as well as any work or career such as carpenter, architect, electrician, computer technician, farmer, rancher, salesman, garbage collector, custodian, teacher, and so forth. Whatever our station and vocation in life, we are to live as priests. We are to live our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord so that as others see us and know that we are Christians, they get a good understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Of course, this is where we often fall into our sinful nature and fail to be a Christian witness as we bad mouth our church, our pastor, or our fellow members. Too often we give a bad witness by refusing and rejecting the gifts God gives by absenting ourselves from Divine Service, and others see this witness that we make. When we make a bad witness and then ask our neighbor if they would like to come to church with us on Sunday, their response of “No” should not surprise us. However, as we, with the help of God, make a good witness, then when we are asked concerning our hope and faith, we know that God will give us the confidence as well as the words to speak in response of our faith. And the words we speak are those words the Holy Spirit stirs in us to speak, words which we have heard in Divine Service and Bible Class.
 
The final step in growing a church is putting these things into practice. The Lutheran Biblical approach to evangelism and to growing a church is practicing what we preach. If we want to grow St. Matthew Lutheran Church, the first thing we will do is be in Divine Service as often as and whenever offered. And we will encourage each other, especially those who continually absent themselves from Divine Service, to return. The second thing we will do is live and work in all our vocations as priests, living lives of faith (even if imperfect lives of faith), always speaking and putting the best construction on everything, and always speaking well of our congregation, its members and our pastor. And we will always be ready to give an answer for the faith and hope we have in Christ as our Savior. Finally, we will be conscious and intentional in speaking to others, inviting them to Divine Service and Bible Class, and speaking God’s Word to them, doing so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

His Word Has Authority - February 3, 2013 - Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Luke 4:31-44

This morning we continue in the season of the Epiphany. Today is the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. Just as a reminder, the word Epiphany means appearing. During the season of Epiphany we celebrate the appearing of God in human flesh, and especially the appearing of Jesus to the Gentile Magi. Our text for this morning gives us no less than three examples, proofs if you will, of the fact that Jesus is God born in human flesh, as we will see.
 
Our text picks up from last week. Last week you might remember, Jesus was the hometown boy preaching in His hometown synagogue and being rejected by His own family and friends, even after they recognized that His preaching was a preaching with authority. Their problem, you might remember was that they would not believe and so Jesus did not do for them any of the signs and wonders, any of the miracles He had been doing elsewhere. This morning we continue to see that Jesus teaches with authority and we would respond with a “duh” because after all, we know He is God and God has authority.
 
Our text brings us again to His usual Sabbath synagogue attendance. For those who believe Jesus to be an example to us, and He is an example but He is so much more, but for those who believe Jesus is an example, certainly His usual, every Sabbath synagogue attendance should spark an obedient desire to be in Divine Service every Sunday, you might think.
 
Jesus is in the synagogue and He is preaching and teaching to the people and the people are amazed at His teaching. They are amazed at Jesus teaching because they were used to the teaching of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. As for the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, their teaching was a teaching of quoting the authority of others. In other words, they really had no authority of their own.
 
On the other hand, now these people, who were used to the teaching of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were listening to Jesus teaching and they noticed the difference. Jesus did not teach by quoting others or by quoting other so called authorities. Jesus taught of His own authoritative words.
 
Yet, not only did Jesus teach with authority, He also demonstrated, or proved the authority of His words by His actions. As Jesus is preaching the good news of salvation, bringing comfort to the people in the synagogue, we are told that “a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon . . . cried out with a loud voice,” and challenged Jesus. Now please notice, even though the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, the religiously educated, professional clergy of the day did not recognize nor acknowledge Jesus and His divinity, the unclean spirit recognizes and confesses Jesus “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
 
Notice that at the confession of faith of the unclean spirit, Jesus rebukes that spirit and will not allow him to speak. Certainly this confession of faith is a right confession and you might think would be a good confession. Maybe the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law will believe if this demon confesses Jesus as God in flesh, or not. On His part, Jesus does not accept the testimony of the demon, but keeps it silent.
 
And then, Jesus shows His authority, He shows His divinity, He shows His power over the spirit in freeing the man. Yet, before the demon gives up he makes one last attempt at power by throwing the man down. The response of faith of those present is that “36And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’ 37And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region” (v. 36, 37).
 
But Jesus is not done. He continues to show His authority. After leaving the synagogue we are told that Jesus goes to Peter’s house for rest. When He gets to Peter’s house He finds that Peter’s mother-in-law (implying if not outright saying that Peter is married), is ill with a high fever. As they enter the house those present speak for Peter’s mother-in-law, appealing to Jesus to have Him heal her. Would that we would emulate their example of faith, and that we would appeal to the Lord for our family and friends who are in need from the Lord.
 
Again, Jesus shows His authority and the fact that He is true God in human flesh. Jesus stood over Peter’s mother-in-law, rebuked the fever and it left her. Jesus, God in flesh, has authority and thus has power over all creation, even to heal our broken, sick and diseased bodies.
 
What is fascinating is that when Jesus gives healing He gives perfect and complete healing. Notice that Peter’s mother-in-law is perfectly healed with no residual lingering side affects as we see her respond to her healing by immediately getting up and serving them.
 
And still our text and Jesus showing His authority are not done. Our text continues by telling us that after the sun went down, which means that it is no longer the Sabbath and day of rest, Jesus went out to a desolate place. Jesus went out to have some alone time, to be in communion, in prayer with God the Father. Yet, His alone time did not last very long. After the Sabbath and the restrictions of the Sabbath were over, the people sought Him and came to Him.
 
Jesus came for all people. Jesus did not come to this earth for Himself. Jesus did not come to save only one specific group of people. He came to seek and to save the lost and so, even when He intended to have some time for Himself, even though the crowds found Him, He was always ready, willing and able to care for the people. He healed those brought to Him. He cast out demons. He did many signs, wonders and miracles as proof of His authority and power, indeed, as proof of His divine nature, that He is truly God in human flesh.
 
The last two verses of our text remind us that as Jesus spends time in prayer and as the people are bringing those who are sick and demon possessed, Jesus recognizes the people are seeking a healer, not a Savior and thus He tells them that He needs to take the Gospel to others.
 
So, what does this mean for us today? Today we continue to live in a spiritually divided world. We live in a spiritually skeptical world. We have those in our world who outright deny Jesus even denying the existence of a God and instead have a faith in a religion of atheism and evolution, which is a religion, a religion that fills the hole in one’s life with oneself as opposed to God. The basic tenants of the faith of atheism and evolution is that there is no god so that one becomes their own god, which we know is idolatry. We also have those in our world which recognize Jesus humanity but not His divinity, in other words there are those religious, cults and sects which believe that Jesus was just a good human being and nothing more. And we have those who believe in Jesus divinity, but deny His humanity, in other words they believe that Jesus is God but that He never was truly human.
 
In our text and in all of Holy Scripture we see that Jesus is who He says He is. Jesus shows Himself to be truly human and divine. Jesus is truly human as we confess that He was born of the Virgin Mary. And we confess that He is truly divine, truly God as He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. In our text for this morning we see Jesus, truly human doing things that can only be done by God. The Gospel writer John makes much of what he calls the signs and wonders Jesus’ performed as proof of Jesus divinity, along with His humanity.
 
The greatest gift we see Jesus giving and the greatest gift Jesus came to earn and give is that He brings ultimate healing with forgiveness of sins. Remember, our greatest need is forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is our greatest need, because without forgiveness our sins would remain on us and we would be eternally condemned, to eternal spiritual death in hell, which is the price for sin. And that is why Jesus came to earth, to earn and to give forgiveness of sins.
 
Jesus had to be truly human in order to be our substitute, in order to trade His life, His perfect life for our imperfect, sin filled lives. And Jesus was human and He was perfect. Jesus was human born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus was perfect which is why He had to be truly God, because only God is perfect. Jesus was perfect and never sinned once. And He had to be perfect in order to trade His life for ours.
 
Jesus, true God, gave up the glory that was His in heaven, taking on human flesh and blood in order to live a perfect life for us, because we could not be perfect, which is the demand of the Law of God. After living a perfect life, after fulfilling all God’s commands and promises perfectly, Jesus took our sins, all our sins, all your sins and all my sins, and all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times on Himself. He took all sins to the cross and paid the price for all sin. He suffered and died because of His great love for us. He died and was buried, yet death and the grave had no power over Him. He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. And now, by faith in Him, faith which He gives to us, when our last hour nears, either at our own passing, or at His return, both of which will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might image, He will gather us and cloth us with His robes of righteousness and take us and all the saints to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. And so we will gather with all the saints before His throne and we will rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.