Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Our text is Matthew 2:1-12: 1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. This is our text.
This year our Advent through Christmas and New Year’s Eve theme has taken us from the promise of a Messiah to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. We began about four weeks ago hearing some of the promises or prophecies and we heard how those promises and prophecies had their fulfillment according to God’s perfect timing. About three weeks ago we revisited some of the timing issues that have been in the Nativity Tradition for so many years. About two weeks we took some time to scrutinize some of the extra Biblical people and items that have been in our Christmas Nativity Tradition to see if our tradition really does follow the Bible. Our purpose is to make sure we get it right so that when we tell others they will not come back later and say, hey, you mixed up some stuff or added some stuff in and thus will not believe anything we say. On Christmas Eve evening, we looked at the issue of time and God’s perfect timing. On Christmas morning we reviewed the part of the shepherds in the Nativity history. This evening we will conclude our series by considering the part of the Magi or Wisemen in the Nativity History, again with an emphasis on correcting some of the parts of the account that tradition has confused.
The traditional church children’s Christmas or Christmas Eve program brings three Magi or the Wisemen in for the last part of the program. They arrive at the stable to greet the newborn king, but is this really how it happened? Did they arrive just after Jesus was born and where there three or do we actually know how many wisemen there were? According to the gospel writer Matthew and his account it would appear that the wisemen did not arrive on the night that Jesus was born and as we have made note earlier Jesus was not born in a stable but in the main part of the house, not the guest or upper room. After consulting with the scribes and chief priests of Herod’s court the wisemen came to see Jesus and then after leaving, once Herod realized they were not coming back He had the baby boys two years and younger murdered, thus when they arrived to see Jesus He would have been about one to one and a half years of age, again, as confirmed by Herod’s killing of the infants. And so Matthew tells us they arrived at the house where they were staying to see the child.
As for the number of wisemen, we usually always see three. Although tradition lists the names of three wise men as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar we do not actually know if that was their names, nor the exact number of wisemen who would have been in the caravan. I would suggest we think of there being three wisemen mostly because of the three gifts. With that said, let us take a few minutes to look at the three gifts that are mentioned and discuss their significance.
We are told that one gift that was given was the gift of gold. Gold was as precious in Jesus’ day as it is today and traditionally gold would be the gift for a King. Gold is a fitting gift as it recognizes Jesus is our King of Kings. Jesus was born from the kingly tribe of Judah, even from the line of King David, His rule was not to be an earthly rule and His kingdom was not intended to be an earthly kingdom. He is King of Kings who rules forever from His eternal throne in heaven.
We are told that another gift was the gift of incense or frankincense. The gifts of incense is a fitting gift for a priest. A priest would burn incense in the temple as a fragrant offering to the Lord. Jesus is our High Priest even the great High Priest who offered not simply incense on an altar, but He offered Himself for us once and for all on the cross. And now as our Great High Priest He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He continually intercedes for us.
A third gift that we are told that was given was the gift of myrrh. Myrrh is an anointing oil and is a gift that is fitting to be given to a prophet who would in turn use the oil to anoint those especially chosen to be a prophet or a priest or a king. Jesus is a prophet even the great prophet. As a prophet He did foretell of the events of His suffering, death and resurrection, and as a prophet He did proclaim the message of salvation by His grace through faith in Himself alone. As our great prophet He is the one who fulfilled all prophecies and who continues to be proclaimed through the preaching of His Word today.
What does this mean? The visit of the wisemen was important because these were the first non-Jews to recognize the birth of the Christ and the fact that Jesus came for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Remember the promise to send a Christ was given way back in the Garden of Eden before there ever was a Jew and Gentile, when there were only people, Adam and Eve.
The visit of the wisemen was important because they evidently had heard the promises of the coming Messiah and they were studying that Word looking for a sign. Not only did the Jewish nation have the Word of God and the promise of a Christ, so did Gentiles who heard the Word of God and believed it as well.
The visit of the wisemen was important because the Word of God, the historic account, their eyewitness of the birth of the Messiah was taken back to their lands. Certainly these wisemen brought back the account of their visit of the Savior of the world to their own people who rejoiced in the birth of the Savior of the world as well.
The visit of the wisemen reminds us that Jesus is the Savior for all people, of all places of all times. Jesus is the One, the only One who is God in flesh, who completely and fully fulfilling all the prophecies of old and all the commands of God.
Today we still celebrate the visit of the wisemen and many Gentiles celebrate the visit of the wisemen over and above the normal Christmas celebration because to them the visit of the wisemen is the recognition of Jesus as the Savior of all, their Savior and ours. Finally, this evening we would correct the tradition of the wisemen arriving just after the hectic rush of Mary and Joseph to find a place to stay for the baby to be born to realize that these wisemen, no matter how many there were, arrived a year or so latter giving gifts to Jesus recognizing His prominence as our prophet, priest and king. And so, now, armed with the truth of the Word of God, we may rightly and boldly give an answer for our faith so that others might hear the Word of God and be given faith as well. And so that we might all rejoice and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Our text is Luke 2:8-20: 8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. This is our text.
This year our Advent through Christmas and New Year’s Eve theme has taken us from the promise of a Messiah to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. We began three weeks ago hearing some of the promises or prophecies and we heard how those promises and prophecies had their fulfillment according to God’s perfect timing. Two weeks ago we revisited some of the timing issues that have been in the Nativity Tradition for so many years. Last week we took some time to scrutinize some of the extra Biblical people and items that have been in our Christmas Nativity Tradition to see if our tradition really does follow the Bible. Our purpose is to make sure we get it right so that when we tell others of these historic events they will not come back later and say, hey, you mixed up some stuff or added some stuff in and thus will not believe anything we say. Last night, Christmas Eve evening, we looked at the issue of time and God’s perfect timing. This morning as we celebrate the birth of the Christ, we will do so with the shepherds, those few who were the first to hear the good news of the birth of the Christ. Again we will look at this account correcting those traditions that have been skewed by human sentiment.
The account of the shepherds begins with setting the shepherds “out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds were doing what shepherds do, tending their sheep. As for these sheep, it has been suggested by some that these might possibly be some of the sheep that were used for sacrifices in the temple, which would add some bit of importance, if you will, I guess, to these sheep and shepherds as if we need to add to their importance for God to choose them to be the first to hear of the news of the new born Christ. Perhaps we might better understand the grace of God if we were to think of them as no more important than we and yet, out of His great love for them, God chose these shepherds to be the first to hear of the new born Christ.
Again, these shepherds were out in the field, tending their sheep and it was night time. The sheep had all been gathered and counted. The sheep and the shepherds may have been getting ready to go to sleep or they may have already been asleep when the angel of the Lord appeared to them. The angel appeared to them and announced the birth of the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. The angels announced that this was the Christ and that He was born from the line of King David, which makes sense since they were guarding sheep just outside of Bethlehem, the city of David, which was also announced by the angels that is that the Savior was born in Bethlehem.
One question we might have right off is why this angel host here in Bethlehem, except possibly to make this announcement and speak these words of praise and notice we are not told that they sang, but that they spoke these words. We are told that this was an angel host, that is a host which is in reference to an army of angel. This army of angels was in Bethlehem at the birth of the Christ child because they were there to protect the baby, God in flesh. Certainly, just as we heard about Herod killing all the babies to protect his throne, Satan’s knowledge of the birth of God in flesh would enrage him enough to send his evil minions to attempt to kill God in flesh, if he could.
And the shepherds were there to witness the birth of the Christ, the Messiah so that they may then be able to tell others of what they had seen and heard. Luke tells us that those who heard about these events, presumably from the shepherds, wondered about what they had heard. We can only image the lives of these shepherds as they spoke with others, and especially with other shepherds from time to time, telling them of these wonderful events.
A second question we might ask is “Why were the shepherds chosen to be the first to hear the good news of the birth of the Messiah?” We know that Jesus often spoke of sheep and shepherds. We also know that He often spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus knew and understood the close relationship of a shepherd and his sheep, that is that each shepherd knew his sheep by name and each sheep knew its shepherd even the very voice of its shepherd so that the sheep would not respond to the voice of one who was not its shepherd.
Jesus also knew that sheep tend to stray and in the same way He knows that we tend to stray. We do not always live as the people He would have us to be, we sin and we sin boldly. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission and commission. We stray and we need a shepherd who will keep us on the straight and narrow.
Jesus came to shepherd us, to care for us and tend to our greatest need, forgiveness of sins which is why He is the Good Shepherd. We are conceived and born in sin and our greatest need if forgiveness of sins. Jesus came to earn forgiveness for us, to pay the price for our sins. Just as a shepherd would risk his life for his sheep, so Jesus gave His life for us.
What does this mean? Jesus is true God in human flesh. As a newborn baby certainly according to His human nature He needed the protection of the host of angels. Thus, not only did the host of angels announce His birth to the shepherds, they also were their to protect the newborn Christ.
Although He is the King of Kings, Jesus did not come as a king to rule this earth. His Kingdom is not of this world but is the eternal kingdom of heaven. Jesus came as our prophet and priest to proclaim the message of salvation, and as priest to offer Himself for us on the cross. Thus, Jesus was born lowly in a manger and yet, His birth was announced so that all people from the lowest to the greatest might know that He was born and that He would save the world.
Finally, Jesus did what no one else could do. He fulfilled all of the promises of Holy Scripture proving Himself to be the Christ. He obeyed all God’s laws and commands perfectly for us in our place. He lived perfectly for us because we can not. He took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins. Yes, this is Christmas and we are celebrating the birth of our Christ, but His birth would mean nothing if He had not completed and accomplished the purpose for His birth, to shed His blood, to give His life for us in our place on the cross.
Today we celebrate the beginning of the end. Indeed, Jesus’ birth ushered in the end times. We are living in the last days of this world. Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection as well as His ascension ushered in the last days. Every day we live brings us one day closer to His return and the ushering in of His eternal kingdom in heaven, a day we so eagerly look forward to. And while we wait, we rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Our test is Luke 2:1-7: 1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. This is our text.
This year our Advent through Christmas and New Year’s Eve theme has taken us from the promise of a Messiah to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. We began three weeks ago hearing some of the promises or prophecies and we heard how those promises and prophecies had their fulfillment according to God’s perfect timing. Two weeks ago we revisited some of the timing issues that have been in the Nativity Tradition for so many years. Last week we took some time to scrutinize some of the extra Biblical people and items that have been in our Christmas Nativity Tradition to see if our tradition really does follow the Bible. Our purpose is to make sure we get it right so that when we tell others of these historic events they will not come back later and say, hey, you mixed up some stuff or added some stuff in and thus will not believe anything we say. This evening, Christmas Eve evening, the night in which we begin our celebration of the birth of God in flesh, our Messiah, even the Christ, we look at the issue of time and God’s perfect timing.
From this text, we can understand the concept of time in two ways. First we can think of time in terms a calendar year and the events of history, about what time of history are we talking. The apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Paul is speaking about history. In God’s timing, the world was at the right time. The right people were in power. Quirineus was governor of Syria. He had called for a census to be taken in order to get an accounting of the number of people over which he was ruler. Because they were from the tribe of Judah, Mary and Joseph were compelled to go to a certain place, to their home town of Bethlehem, so the baby would be born in Bethlehem, according to God’s prophecy. The nations were in the right place. The timing of the events of the world were just right.
The history of the world had to be at such a place so that the nation of Israel would be set to receive her king, at least some of the nation of Israel were set to receive her king. Others of Israel were not ready to accept Jesus as the Christ and they refused and rejected Him as such. Interestingly enough the first Christians were of the Jewish culture and yet, when the Christ was born, after Jesus resurrection and ascension, their Jewish religion meant nothing anymore so that they were now Christians.
The second understanding of time is that of gestation, the forty weeks, or nine months for a baby to be in His mother’s womb before He is born. Earlier Luke relates the history of the birth of John the Baptist who had been born to Elizabeth. This birth of John the Baptist was important as it was prophesied that He would be born who would be the forerunner of Jesus, that is the one who would announce the coming of the Christ.
The “time came for her to give birth,” means that Mary had been pregnant for 40 weeks. The child that grew in her womb had reached the age and development that He was ready to be born into the world. And Jesus was born, true God in human flesh in the normal way in which all human beings are born, or are at least according to God’s design to be born.
Finally, on a minor note, the fact that “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth,” indicates that they had been in Bethlehem for enough time to find shelter, room and board. Contrary to tradition, to Hollywood, to our yearly children’s programs, Mary and Joseph did not rush into Bethlehem seeking a place so that Mary might immediately give birth to her child.
What does this mean? First and foremost this means that God is the One who is ultimately in charge. God is the One who created all things out of nothing and who created time for us. God who lives outside of time, who lives in what we describe as the eternal present does all and gives all to us. He created us to love us even when we sin. Indeed, we are all conceived and born in sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed Him and brought sin and a curse on this earth, their sin is born in each one of us. Yet, again, because God loves us so much, at the time of Adam and Eve’s sin, God stepped in and promised He would take care of their sin. He is the One who set our redemption in motion.
With that said, God’s timing is perfect timing. God’s timing was such that through His prophets, through those He set to rule over His people and the people and culture groups of the world, He stirred in them, believers and unbelievers alike, to make decisions that would make sure that all things according to His plan and time would be arranged to be ready at just the right time. That Jesus was born when He was born and where He was born was no mere coincidence, but was guided by the very hand of God Himself.
God stepped into time, into human history, into His story, to be born of a woman, as a human being as God in human flesh. Our God is not a God who is far off. He is not a God who created a world, wound it up so to speak and then left it to wind itself down, no He is a God who is near and dear to us. Our God is a God who is active in our lives, if not directly, which is not His usual way of being in our lives, but indirectly, working through means, and especially through His means of grace, His Holy Word and His Sacraments, giving to us all the gifts and blessings He has to give, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Jesus was and is true God in human flesh in order to accomplish what all of humanity and all of Israel could not, live perfectly. Jesus had to be truly a human being. God’s command was that we are perfect and we cannot be perfect. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. Our nature is to sin and we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit making Him truly God, and truly sinless. He was born without sin and He never sinned.
The fullness of the Gospel is not simply that Jesus died on the cross. The fullness of the Gospel is that Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place. Jesus lived perfectly fulfilling all the prophecies concerning the coming Christ. Jesus lived perfectly obeying all of God’s laws and commands perfectly. Jesus never sinned for us.
Jesus accomplished what no other person could accomplish. He accomplished the restoration, even our relationship with Himself. Because Jesus was born in perfection, because Jesus never sinned, He was able to be our substitute, to take our place, to take our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price, to suffer the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place, the price and cost for our sins. He traded His perfect life for our imperfect life. He paid the price for ours sins for us in our place. He died so that we might not have to die. What we should have received He received, eternal spiritual death and punishment. What He should have received, we received, forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven.
This evening we begin our celebration of the birth of God in flesh, of the beginning of God’s work of salvation for all people, of the birth of the Child who was born to die so that we might live. In the fullness of time, that is in the fullness of God’s perfect time, when He had the events of the world set at a certain place, the place most effective and efficient to work out our salvation, God sent His Son into our world to live, suffer, die and rise for us in our place. His timing is perfect. His substitutionary atonement was perfect and was enough. Nothing else needs to be done for our salvation. God has done it all and He gives it all to us and He moves and stirs in us our response of faith to say to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Have you ever heard someone say something like, “It’s a mystery to me.” Or have you ever read a “mystery” novel? Or, maybe you watch shows on television that are consider “mystery” shows? When we speak in such terms, using the word “mystery,” we usually means something that we cannot explain, at least not right off. Of course, most “mystery” novels and “mystery” shows disclose the secret by the end of the book. In our text for this morning Paul speaks of “the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” To help us better understand this “mystery” and the revelation of the secret of this mystery let us take a moment to do a little word study. The word “mystery” in the New Testament is often connected with another word, the word “kerygma,” which means “proclamation,” that is that one proclaims or preaches something. Paul links this word to the cross which is divine wisdom. Linking these words together, Paul is speaking of the mystery of the eternal counsel of God hidden from the world but fulfilled and revealed in the cross of Christ. This mystery is before the world, hidden from eternity, hidden in God, but fulfilled and revealed in Christ. And today this mystery is continually revealed through the means of grace, especially through the proclamation of the Gospel.
So, what about this mystery? What is such a mystery? For us Christians, there really is no mystery, at least not any more. For those of us who have been given faith, the mystery has been revealed and we reveal in the mystery and give glory to God. Yet, there are many in our world who continue to be confused and for whom the Gospel, the Good News of salvation is and continues to be a mystery. For too many, their eyes are veiled and they cannot fathom the revelation of the mystery of God. Perhaps we would do well to reveal this mystery to them. What is this mystery? The mystery is how a Creator God could so love and care for His creation so much that He would do anything and everything (even giving His own life) to save His creation. This just does not make sense to the average person. We live in what has been called a “throw away” society, even a consumer society. We buy, use, and dispense, that is, we throw away and discard what we have used. We purchase “fast” food, eat it on the run and then dispose of our trash. Certainly we must all admit that we are very wasteful people. Unfortunately, this translates into the fact that we very often care very little for the so many blessings we have.
Maybe the illustration of a potter might help. A potter works the clay in order to make a pot to serve a purpose. If the potter is not satisfied with the clay he or she simply smashes it and begins to rework it, or if they have completed the work and then in the firing process, that is when it is put in the oven to make it hard, something happens, they simply throw it away. God is our Creator. He has molded us. Through trials and tribulations He fires us. And yet, even as we are conceived and born in sin, even as we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, He does not simply start over or throw us away. Instead, because of His great love for us, He set out to redeem us, to buy us back to take care of our impurities and imperfections, and this is no small task. And so this, to many, is a mystery, how a Creator God could have such love for His wayward creation.
This is not a new mystery, but this is a mystery that was given through the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. Moses recorded the words of the Lord as He recounted the story of His creation of the world, out of nothing, in six - twenty-four hour days. Moses recorded the account of the perfection of God’s creation, that all was good and even very good. And Moses, by inspiration from God, who was there, recounts the fall into sin. God, who created all things out of nothing, who created the man in His own image, perfect and holy, who created the woman as a helper suitable for the man, gave only one requirement for His creatures, not to eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And God even set the penalty for such transgression if it would occur and that penalty was eternal spiritual death and even physical death.
And, of course, we know the story, Eve and Adam did disobey God. They did eat from the fruit and their disobedience brought sin and death into our once perfect world. Fortunately, God, who knew this would happen, even before He set out and began creation, God also knew that He would take care of this sin as well. See, this too is a mystery, a mystery from eternity, that is that God knew all these things from before He set out to create and yet, He created this world and us anyway. And He also knew the price that He would willingly pay for His creation.
The mystery is given in the Old Testament and the mystery is made know to the world through the birth of Jesus Christ. We are in the fourth week of Advent, preparing ourselves for our celebration of the birth of Christ, the birth of God in flesh, according to the promise God made in the Garden of Eden, the promise to send a Savior. Jesus is God from eternity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is God who took on human flesh and blood in order to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. Jesus had to be truly God in order to be perfect, in order to live perfectly, in order to do for us all that we in our imperfection cannot do for ourselves. Jesus also had to be truly human in order to be our substitute. Just as we speak of different things, such as apples and oranges, these cannot be substituted because they are not the same, so our substitute had to be one of us, thus Jesus was truly one of us, truly human.
Jesus came, God in flesh, to do for us what we cannot do. Jesus came to bring reconciliation, to set our account with God straight, that is to pay what we owe, the price for our sins as well as for the sins of all people of all places of all times. Remember, when the promise to send a Savior was first made, it was made to Adam and Eve, to all people, to all their offspring. Yes, later the promise was narrowed, that is that the Savior would be born through the chosen people of the children of Israel, but that does not negate the fact that the promise was for all people, especially for you and for me.
Today Jesus still comes to us. He comes to us to gives us all His good gifts and blessings. He comes to give us forgiveness of sins. He comes to give us faith and to bring us strengthening of faith. He comes to strengthen and keep us in faith.
And, as Paul says, our Lord continues to come to us to “bring about obedience of faith,” that is to work in and through us so that we do the good works which God has prepared for us to do. Of course we understand that this is properly the work of the Holy Spirit. And yet, this too is a mystery, that is how we, who are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God can do anything that is pleasing in God’s eyes. But these things we do, as the Lord works these good works in and through us and as they are done to His glory.
What does this mean? For many in our world, and unfortunately for many even in the Christian church this continues to be a mystery. This is the mystery of God’s great love. How often we, even as faithful Christians, wonder how, in our sin, God can love us so much? Yet, we realize that this is just the work of Satan trying to fill us with doubt and despair in order to lead us away from Christ. Our answer is, as always, to go back to the place where God reveals His mystery and that is to go back to His Word which rightly and boldly proclaims our forgiveness and God’s love to us in Christ.
Yes, the mystery has been and continues to be revealed. It is revealed every time the Word of God is read and heard and, yet it continues to be missed by many. It continues to be rejected by many. God’s word is rejected as phoney, as counterfeit, as restrictive and so it continues to be a mystery.
The mystery has been revealed in Christ, the Word made flesh. As we read and hear all the promises of the Old Testament, we see all these promises, not just some, but all these promises fulfilled in this one person, Jesus Christ, God in flesh. Certainly the odds that only one person might fulfill one or two of these promises would be great, but Jesus fulfilled them all. He is the one eternal God from eternity, without beginning, without end, who intervened in our own human history, who took on human flesh and blood in order to take care of our broken relationship with Himself as Creator God.
The mystery is revealed in confession and absolution. Whenever we confess our sins as we do at the beginning of almost every worship service, and we hear those most beautiful words, “your sins are forgiven,” then we know that this is exactly what we have, forgiveness of sins. No, our sins did not simply vanish. The price for our sins had to be paid and it was paid. It was paid by Christ on the cross.
The mystery is revealed in Holy Baptism. Again, unfortunately too many people fail to understand the power of water and God’s Word, depending, instead, on their own finite, human understanding. And yet our Lord tells us how baptism even saves us, not simply the water, but the word connected with God’s Word, namely His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through which our Lord works to give us faith, to write His name on us, to write our names in the book of life, to claim us as His own.
And the mystery is revealed in the Lord’s Supper. Again, according to our own finite human understanding too many fail to understand our Lord’s Word when He tells us that Jesus took bread and took wine and gave it saying that this “is,” not that this “is changed into,” nor that this “symbolizes,” but that this “is” My body and My blood. And that as we do “this,” that is as we eat His body and drink His blood we do this in remembrance, that is we do this in participation of His death and resurrection, so that His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
Most of you know that I tend to be a simple person and I like things simple. The simpler the better. That is the reason I always say, when you have a theological question, the first place I always go to for an answer is my catechism, which many equate with being a children’s catechism. I guess because we are usually in seventh and eighth grade when we go through it. Yet, this is the first place I always go for answers to great theological questions. So, for an answer to the mystery of God, might I suggest in simple terms and this is nothing new, you have heard it before, we know we get it right, we know we get the mystery of God right when we get it right as to who is doing what. When we are “running the verbs,” that is when we put ourselves in the position of doing the doing, we get it wrong and everything continues to be a mystery. However, when we have God “running the verbs,” that is when God is doing the doing and we are the ones being done to, when God is doing the giving and we are the ones being given to, then we get it right and we have the mystery revealed. And certainly, when God is doing the doing and doing the giving, then He is also the one who moves and stirs in us to say, “to Him be the glory.” Which brings us back to Paul’s words, which are words of benediction and words with which I leave you this morning, “25Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—27to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (v. 25-27).
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Our text is Luke 2:1-7: 1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. This is our text.
This year our Advent through Christmas and New Year’s Eve theme has been taking us from the promise of a Messiah to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. We began two weeks ago hearing some of the promises or prophecies and we heard how those promises and prophecies had their fulfillment according to God’s perfect timing. Last week we revisited some of the timing issues that have been in the Nativity Tradition for so many years. This evening we want to take the time to scrutinize some of the extra Biblical people and items that have been in our Christmas Nativity Tradition to see if our tradition really does follow the Bible. Our purpose is to make sure we get it right so that when we tell others they will not come back later and say, hey, you mixed up some stuff or added some stuff in and thus will not believe anything we say.
First let us take a look at God’s hand in the actions that took place in the timing and the placing of those involved in the events of the fulfillment of God’s Word. First, God had to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. So, how does God get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem? They got to Bethlehem because Quirinius who was the governor of Syria called for a registration of all his citizens. Quirinius was a historic person so we can know the time of his rule and the validity of the facts of this historical account. Thus, God used the call for a census by a human governor to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.
Why the city of Bethlehem? God brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for several reasons, all of which bring about the culmination of the fulfillment of His prophecy concerning the Christ He would send. God brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem because they were from the line of the Children of Israel who were given Bethlehem as their allotted portion of the promised land. They were brought to Bethlehem because they were from the house of King David. They were brought to Bethlehem at the time of the birth of the Christ so that these prophecies might be fulfilled.
What about the timing and room of the birth? Our traditional Christmas rendering, that is our usual children’s Christmas program as well as television and Hollywood movies bring Mary and Joseph rushing into Bethlehem frantically seeking a place to stay because Mary is in labor and is about to have her baby on the donkey on which she is riding. Kind of like having a baby in the cab on the way to the hospital I would suppose. Certainly this brings good drama and suspense to the program, but is that really what we read had happened. Again, as I have said many times before, sometimes we need to go back and see what the Bible really does say. And what the Bible says does not really indicate any type of rushing into town looking for a room, rather it says that she gave birth “while they were there.” This “while they were there” indicates that they may have been there for some time, not simply rushing into town.
Okay, so they did not rush into town looking for a place to stay, but what about the fact that we hear every year how all the hotels, all the inns were full? Again, let us go back to see what the Bible really says. First let us take a look at the meaning of the word “inn,” since we are told there was no room in the “inn.” The word that is translated as “inn” is the word “kataluma” which means guest room. And actually this is the same word Jesus used when He told His disciples to prepare the Passover, the only difference is that in the Gospel of Matthew it is translated as “guest room” not inn. But what about the translation that calls it an “inn?” There is a actually a different word that is translated as “inn,” and that is the word pandochion. In the parable of the Good Samaritan we are told that after bandaging his wounds the Samaritan took the man to an “inn” and paid the “innkeeper” to take care of the man that had been beaten.
So, when Mary and Joseph came into town, they looked for a place to stay among their relatives, remember this was the city of their tribe or clan. Because there was an influx of people coming into town to register all the upper rooms or guest rooms had already been taken by other relatives so instead of staying in the upper room or guest room Mary and Joseph stayed with the rest of the family in the main part of the house.
As for the matter of the manger or feeding trough in which the baby Jesus was laid. In the main part of the house where the family lived, the animals were kept in the house especially at night with the family. In order to feed the animals a manger or feeding trough was necessary. This manger would have been either a carved out stone trough or a wooden trough.
Finally, we are told that Joseph was to be registered with Mary to whom he was betrothed. To be betrothed meant more than what is meant by being engaged in our society and culture today. To be engaged today simply means two people intend to get married. To be betrothed meant that they were actually married, just not exercising their marital benefits. If the betrothal was to be broken it would have had to be broken by a divorce. Thus, Mary and Joseph were not married, yet they had also not consummated the marriage and so Christ was born of a virgin.
What does this mean? As always, this means that God’s Word is faithful and true and can be trusted. This means that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the One promised in Eden and reiterated throughout the Old Testament. This means that Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as God had foretold, thus this means prophecy fulfilled.
Jesus was born of a virgin meaning that His mother was the human woman Mary making Him completely human and His Father was the Holy Spirit making Him completely divine or truly God. Jesus was not half man and half God but one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. He had to be God in order to be born in perfection for us. He had to be human in order to trade, or substitute His life for ours, to redeem us, to buy us back, to reconcile our account with Himself. Jesus was born of a virgin, prophecy fulfilled.
Jesus continues to beat the odds of one man fulfilling all the promises of the Old Testament giving us confidence, not in His beating the odds, but in God’s Word which does what it says and gives what it says. Jesus did fulfill, not just one, not just some, but all of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus is true God in human flesh. Jesus was perfect for us in our place. Jesus has done it all and He gives it all to us.
So, even though human beings may get certain facts out of wack at times, and even though our traditions may not tell the story in the exact way, we still have God’s Word, a Word which is alive and still speaks to us today. Perhaps, again, before we begin quoting or misquoting God’s Word we would do well to go back and make sure God says what we are saying He says. And that might simply be a good reminder to us to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, reading God’s Word, daily, remembering our Baptism, confessing our sins and hearing the most beautiful words of forgiveness and partaking of our Lord’s body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine in His most holy meal. And indeed the gifts God gives through the means He gives them are most certain indeed and we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
This morning we have rehearsed, yet again, the annual Children’s Christmas program. I cannot tell you for how many years the Christian church has presented an annual Children’s Christmas program, but I am quite certain that is has been an annual tradition since soon after Jesus’ ascension as people could begin such a tradition. I want to briefly answer three questions this morning.
Why do we have traditions? We have traditions because something important happened and we want to remember and/or celebrate the event or happening. In other words, we have holidays and remembrance days so we do not forget important things. So, some traditions might be difficult, such as memorial days and the like and other traditions might be more festive, such as Christmas and Easter. Of course, as can happen to traditions, the traditions at times can and do over power the actual event so the actual event that is remembered or celebrated is no longer what really happened. Here I would remind you of such characters that tend to overshadow the actual event. I won’t mention such characters, but I am sure that you will understand what I mean when I suggest that at Easter and at Christmas there are certain characters that tend to overshadow the actual celebration, at least in the public square.
Why an annual tradition of presenting the Christmas story? Throughout the history of the Christian church, beginning with Adam and Eve, continuing with Abraham, Moses and so forth, God has given His people certain things to remember, such as the Passover and Pentecost and now we have Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Maudy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter morning, Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost. All of these events are important for us as Christians and so we celebrate them yearly so as not to forget and even more so as to celebrate all that our Lord has done for us, all that He continues to do for us and all that we look forward to Him giving to us. At the same time, we must be vigilant in making sure that what we celebrate is not overshadowed by the celebration and all the added parts of the tradition.
So, of what are we reminded by our account of the Christmas Story? First, and foremost we are reminded of the historicity of the good news of Jesus. You see, the Christmas story is not simply a story, but is actually an historic account of events that did take place. Unlike many other religions of the world, the Christian faith is set in time and history, in other words, the Christian faith can be proven by historic facts. The fact is that Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. God did curse the world and promise to reconcile the world by sending a Savior. Jesus was born, God in flesh. Jesus did for us what God commanded and what we could not do, He lived perfectly for us in our place. After living a perfect life, obeying all of God’s laws perfectly, fulfilling all of God’s prophecies perfectly, He then took our sins, all our sins and the sins of all people of all places of all times on Himself. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell for us in our place. And He died. But death and the grave had no hold over Him, as He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. He showed Himself to be alive and then before He ascended back into heaven, He promised He would return. Indeed, these are the historic facts of the Christian faith and so each year we walk through the church year remembering all that our great loving God has done for us.
Indeed, we worship every Sunday because every Sunday is a mini Easter celebration. Every Sunday we are reminded of our sin and our part of putting Jesus on the cross and the fact that it is because He loves each one of us so much that He gave His life for ours and even if we were the only person on earth, He would have given His life for ours. And each Sunday we are reminded that He rose and now He gives us the greatest gift and the thing we need the most, forgiveness of sins, because with forgiveness of sins we know we have life and salvation. As I always say here, God gives and we are given to and our response is simply, thanks be to God and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
The Beginning of the Promises Being Fulfilled - Advent Midweek 2 - December 10, 2014 - Text: Matthew 2:1-6
Our text for this evening is Matthew 2:1-6: 1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” This is our text.
This year our Advent through Christmas and New Year’s Eve theme will take us from the promise of a Messiah to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. We began last week hearing some of the promises or prophecies and we heard how those promises and prophecies had their fulfillment according to God’s perfect timing. This evening we will revisit some of the timing issues that have been in the Nativity Tradition for so many years. Now please understand, I am not against traditions. Traditions are and can be good and helpful, however, traditions that are based, not on fact but on conjecture need to be looked at, examined, and if contrary to fact they need to be changed to make them factual.
If you have noticed some of the “biblical” movies that have been put out by Hollywood, you may have noticed that creative and artistic license is often brought into play. My take is that this creative and artistic license is simply Satan’s way of interjecting falsehood into the truth of the Bible so that all of the Bible might eventually by spoken of as myth or folklore, or whatever label one might want to attach to delegitamize God’s Word. So, as I have said many times, when we are quoting something from the Bible, perhaps we would do well from time to time to go back and double check what we are quoting to make sure we have quoted correctly.
With that said, let us revisit our text. God’s timing is perfect timing. When we examine the world and the history of the world, in other words when we look at who were the rulers that were in place, when we see that the children of Israel were in Jerusalem, we realize that all things that needed to be in place for God to work out our salvation were in place and at just the right time. So, in setting the time line of God fulfilling His promise of a Christ we read in verse one that “after” Jesus was born in Bethlehem the Magi arrived. Thus, from the text we might rightly understand that Jesus was between the age of one and one and half before the Magi arrived, not a baby in a barn behind someone’s house in Bethlehem.
In verse six we are told that the chief priests and scribes related the prophecy from Micah 5:2 of Jesus birth in Bethlehem. Interestingly enough, and as a bit of an aside, I wonder where these chief priests and scribes were when Jesus was thirty and beginning His ministry in Jerusalem? Had they forgotten their own interpretation of the prophecies of old? Why did they not believe Him to be the Christ, unless they believed that Herod had actually killed the Messiah?
Anyway, this news of the birth of a king was disturbing news. We are told that Herod and all Jerusalem was troubled with him. Herod was troubled because he was jealous for his kingdom, rule and power. Herod was known to put to death anyone who might challenge his rule. News of a new king, even though it was a baby, was no exception. Yet, Herod did not want to let on that he was disturbed so he simply asked that after the Magi found the king they would tell him so that he might worship the king as well, knowing that his intent was to be rid of any challenger to his throne.
We are told that all Jerusalem was troubled as well. All Jerusalem was troubled because they knew of the king’s jealousy and so they were troubled at what the king might do. They knew that the king would go to any length to snuff out and be rid of any rival to the throne including what he might do to them as citizens.
After the Magi left and after a while the king realized the Magi were not going to return and so the king’s response, after being duped by the Magi was to have all the boys two years and under killed, again giving us an age for Jesus of one to one and a half years. “17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 6:17-18). Again, this is an actual historic event which helps us to date the time of Jesus’ birth as well as establish the fact of His birth in human history as a human being.
What does this mean? Again, as we pointed out last week and as our text bears witness this week, the fact is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This historic fact is evidence of prophecy fulfilled, or at least we should say the beginning of the prophecies of the Old Testament being fulfilled. The odds of one person fulfilling all the prophecies of the Old Testament which point to the Christ are astronomical and yet this is what Jesus did and our text for this evening is the beginning of His fulfillment.
Again, as we were reminded last week and as our text bears out this week, Jesus was born as ruler of Judah, even more He was born from the line of King David making Him truly an heir to the earthly throne of the Children of Israel. This is again prophecy fulfilled. Yet, Jesus was not born to be an earthly king. His kingdom would be and is an eternal kingdom in heaven, as was noted last week, Genesis 49:10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” and also Micah 5:2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
Even more, our text speaks words of human history. Jesus, the Christ is not some mythical, made up, fictional character of some humanly invented religion. Jesus is a human, historic figure born in time and in history. His history is that Jesus is born at the time that Herod was King in Jerusalem. Jesus was a true historic person. Jesus was the One promised to save the world.
Too many religions in our world have their foundations on some words of some dead human being. Too many religions are based on some mythical characters from stories and legends that are simply meant to bring about a better, morally ethical society. Too many religions are founded on someone’s claim of a new revelation correcting all the falsities of Christianity with no factual nor historical footing. Not so with Jesus. Not so with the Christian Church. The fact is that Jesus was born in human history and human time. He is truly God in human flesh. He lived perfectly fulfilling God’s command to all people. He took all the sins of all people of all places of all times on Himself, your sins and mine. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell, what would be our punishment for our sin, for us. He died and yet death and the grave had no hold over Him as He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. After forty days He ascended back to the place from which He had descended, that is He ascended into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father, watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. His body has never been found and will never be found because unlike other religious rulers who died and whose remains are here on earth, Jesus remains in His bodily form in heaven, and yet He continues to be everywhere present. The importance of the historicity of Jesus is that our faith and eternal life depend on it.
God said it would happen. God guided and directed the events that would happen. Jesus lived perfectly, suffered, died and rose for us, for you and for me and now the Holy Spirit working through the means our Lord has given us, His means of grace, His Holy Word, and His Sacraments, comes to us to give us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. He has done it all and He gives it all to us and indeed, we are given to. And we respond with great joy and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Today brings us to the second week of advent and it is fitting that we look at Peter’s epistle. As Peter encourages the people of his day, so today I want to encourage you. I want to encourage you so that you might be strengthened in your faith and in your belief that Christ will return. And as a “by-product” of your faith and encouragement I want to stimulate your anticipation of the celebration of His first coming at Bethlehem in the manger as we look forward to that celebration on Christmas morning. Again, I encourage you, do not celebrate Christmas yet. We celebrate Christmas for twelve days beginning with Christmas.
Back in the book of Genesis, before God created the Sun, He created time. God, who is outside of time, created time for us, His creatures. On the first day of creation God created light and set time in motion. It was not until the fourth day that God created the sun and when He created the sun He set it in motion to help mark time for us, in other words, at the time He created the sun He also set the sun in the heavens to conform to His creation of a twenty-four hour day. All through Scripture, the reference of a “day” is a reference to a twenty-four hour period, please keep this in mind. Indeed God lives outside of time. God lives in the eternal present. For God there is no yesterday, nor is there a tomorrow, there is only the eternal now. God created time for us.
So, Peter says, “. . . with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (8b). Peter’s statement here is not meant to be confusing. He is not saying, nor is he implying any reference to creation and the length of a day at the time of creation as some people would have you believe. Peter’s statement is meant to help the reader to understand that God’s time is not our time. God does not see time or live in time as we humans do. Again, to God there are no yesterdays and no tomorrows. God lives in what we might call the eternal present, in the eternal now. God created time for us human beings in order that we might be able to have a frame of reference in which to live. Because He lives in the eternal now, for God a day may be no shorter than many years and many years may be no longer than a day. Since time is purely relative, for God, He can sit and watch patiently as we humans live impatiently.
Thus, the Lord’s timing is such that He is giving enough time for all mankind to be saved. In his letter to Timothy Paul says, “3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). As I have said before of Paul, Peter as well as all the disciples believed that Christ’s return would be very soon after His ascension. This is true for people throughout history. We all believe that Christ’s return will be very soon. We read our Bibles and every day we believe we see the signs of the end times and expect Christ to return. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. We hear of earthquakes, hurricanes, and natural disasters and rumors of earthquakes, hurricanes and natural disasters and we believe that He will be here soon. Who knows, He may wait another 2000 years before He comes again. But be assured, that He will come and He will come when He knows that He has given enough time for everyone, or as many people as possible to come to repentance.
And when He comes, He will come as a thief in the night. Just as a thief will not come when the owner expects him, so Christ will not return at our expectation. Peter’s imagery is interesting because I wonder if he was not saying something about our human character when he uses the term thief. As a thief comes at night so as to not be seen, so we often do our best sinning in what we think is secret so as to not be seen by others. But God sees our sins, whether we sin in the open or in secret. God’s coming will be as a thief in the night, when we least expect it, and maybe even when we are in the middle of our own thievery and sin.
At the Lord’s coming, “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (v. 10b). We know that fire is a purifying agent. Precious metals like gold and silver are purified by fire. Milk and other foods are purified, or pasteurized by fire. In the beginning God created a prefect world. Man spoiled God’s prefect world and infected it with sin. The world that the people from Adam to Noah knew was destroyed, or purified by water. At Christ’s second coming fire will burn up the old heaven and earth, purifying them into one new heaven and earth, a perfect heaven and earth.
Although we do not know when the Lord will return, as in Paul’s day, as in Peter’s day, we know the time will be soon. How do we know it will be soon? We have waited some 2000 years already, so certainly we are 2000 years closer to the Lord’s return than in Paul’s and Peter’s day. And as I have said before, each day we live brings us one day closer to the Lord’s return.
How then are we to live in order to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming? First and foremost we are to prepare our lives by being given the gifts our Lord has to given and being given them through the means He has of giving them, in other words by making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. Then, we are to prepare ourselves by living holy and Godly lives. We do this by making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, by our daily remembering of our baptism. We daily repent and are given forgiveness. We have daily devotions, Scripture reading, and prayers. We prepare ourselves by attending worship, the Lord’s Supper, Bible studies, and Adult Bible class. We prepare ourselves by living our lives according to God’s good and gracious will, knowing that, as I said earlier, His coming will be as a thief in the night, when we least expect it. So, with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we live our lives daily according to His good and gracious will.
We prepare ourselves by expecting a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. Christ has promised to return and to take us with Himself to live with Him forever. Because of His long delay in coming, do not think that He is not coming. We may be reminded of the people of Noah’s day who laughed at his building the ark and telling them that the flood would come. We remember that at His first coming, at His birth, the Jewish nation had been waiting many thousands of years and many who were not ready really did miss His coming. We are reminded of those of Jesus day who would not believe He was the Messiah. Each year at this time we begin anew, looking forward to celebrating His birth on Christmas morning. Today we have many skeptics who each year add another notch in their belt of skepticism and the idea that He is not coming. But just as His patience convinces some that He is not coming, so it convinces us even more that His coming will be soon and each year we draw that much closer to His return.
We prepare ourselves by having Him find us without spot or blemish and at peace with one another. Actually for us to be completely without spot and blemish is impossible, but it is something we work for in our sanctified life, that is with God’s help. Peter’s imagery here reminds us of Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, who without spot or blemish allowed Himself to be the perfect sacrifice for us, in our place, so that we can be at peace with Him and with one another. Because we are made right with God through faith in Jesus, He makes us right, He makes us without spot or blemish. Now with His help we try to live in peace with one another. We do this in preparation for His second coming.
What Does This Mean? First and foremost we constantly remind ourselves that our time on this earth is limited. Certainly, while we are alive in this world, and especially as little children, we might think our hundred years of life, if we should live that long, is a long time, but compared to eternity, our lives are but a blink of an eye. Because time is relative for us, and remember how it was as a child, it seemed like Christmas took so long to get here, but as we have grown older and have added so many responsibilities and things to our lives it seems as if we just celebrated Christmas about a month ago. As we grow older we tend to think more in terms of our mortality, whereas, if we look at the obituaries in the paper we notice that death is no respecter of persons, that is that people die at any age, from the age of the moment of conception to even a hundred years. Thus it is important that we focus on what is important, our spiritual well being, our faith and our forgiveness.
Remember, God’s desire is that all people are saved. God does not want anyone to perish and so He is patient and waiting patiently for as many people as possible to be given faith before He returns to judge the world. Certainly this implies our responsibility to be living lives of faith, sharing our faith through our actions as well as through our words, through inviting others to worship to hear the message of salvation as well.
God has taken care of everything. He has created us and continues to take care of us, providing us with all that we need (and we talked about that on Thanksgiving Eve). God has taken care of our sins, by sending Jesus, even Himself in flesh in order to pay the price for our sins. And yes, even as we continue to daily sin much and need forgiveness, Jesus’ death has taken care of all those sins as well. And now our Lord continues to be a part of our lives in that He helps us to live our lives as lives of faith looking forward to heaven.
This is the second week in Advent. The second candle, the Bethlehem Candle, is lit. As I told the children earlier, this second candle reminds us that the promised Savior would be born in Bethlehem. As we daily prepare for Christ’s second coming, even so as we are in this season of Advent, we prepare for our celebration of His first birth in Bethlehem. May the Lord continue to work faith and strengthening of faith in your heart during this Advent season, so that when He does return He will find you ready to receive Him and to go to be with Him in heaven forever. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Our texts for this evening are: 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.” Genesis 49:10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” And Micah 5:2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” These are our text.
This year our Advent through Christmas and New Year’s Eve theme will take us from the promise of a Messiah to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. We will begin by hearing the promise or prophecy and then we will hear how those promises and prophecies had their fulfillment according to God’s perfect timing. Along the way we will correct some of the errors of tradition as we go back to God’s Word and read what He tells us.
This evening we begin our Advent season, our season of preparation to celebrate the birth of our Messiah by going back and looking at the first promises, the first prophecies of God to send a Savior.
The very first promise of a Savior was given by God in the Garden of Eden. Immediately after Eve and Adam disobeyed God and ate of the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that disobedience brought sin and a curse. God’s curse was that the serpent would crawl on his belly, the man would have to toil and sweat in his work. And as an aside I would remind you that work was not the punishment as Adam and Eve had already had the privilege of working the garden. It was the toil and sweat that were added to the work. And to the woman she would have pain in childbearing and would have a desire for her husband, especially a desire to usurp his role as the head of the family. But God stepped in with the promise: “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” (Gen. 3:15).
God’s promise was a promise of restoration. He would restore the relationship that Adam and Eve had broken with Him through the birth of an offspring, in particular, a Son. This promise of a son is why Eve believed her first sons were perhaps the one promised by God, which was not the case, rather the birth of the first two sons recorded in Genesis were only a reminder that we are all conceived and born in sin.
God’s promise was that the Savior, which in Hebrew is Messiah and in Greek is Christ will have His heel bruised. In other words, He will die. Again another aside, the reason I remind you that the Greek word for Savior or Messiah is Christ is because this is indeed the birth of the Christian Church, that is all who believe in the promise of the coming Christ are Christians.
Continuing on, God’s promise was also that even though the Christ would die, in His death, Satan will have his head crushed, that is he will be completely defeated.
In our second reading we are told that the promise of the Savior is that He would be born from the line of Judah “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen. 49:10). At this point God is narrowing the family line through which the Christ would be born. This is not a new or second covenant, simply a narrowing of its fulfillment. The family of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob (Israel) would be the family through which the Christ would be born.
The fact that the Christ would be born from the line of Judah reminds us that His is a royal lineage, from the same line of King David and God’s promise is that His reign would be eternal in other words, not only would Jesus defeat Satan, He will rule eternally in heaven. This whole eternal reign is often misunderstood by some thinking that the Christ will have some kind of earthly rule, which was never the intention. God’s restoration of mankind is an eternal heavenly restoration.
In our third reading we have the promise that the Savior would be born of a virgin: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14). Why the importance of the Christ being born of a virgin, because the normal way of conception is that a sinful man and a sinful woman conceive a sinful child. The Christ would not be born in this normal way, of a human man and a human woman, rather He would be conceived of a woman by God so that He will be truly God and truly human without sin. He had to be truly human to be our substitute and He had to be without sin to redeem us.
The Christ would bear the name Immanuel, which means God with us. Here again, a reminder that the Christ is not simply an ordinary sinful human being, but is indeed God conceived in human flesh, yet perfect and holy as only God is.
In our last reading we are told that the Savor would be born in Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). Why Bethlehem? The town of Bethlehem was the town from which ancient rulers had been born, ancient rulers such as King David. In other words, Bethlehem was a town of royalty, of royal blood. Jesus was born as King of the Jews, not an earthly king as we have said, but a heavenly, eternal king, thus Bethlehem was the fitting place for Him to be born.
The Christ would be born in the small town of Bethlehem. Because of the events of the world, because Bethlehem was a small town, kind of off the map, off the charts, it was the perfect place for God’s Christ to be born, unnoticed by the world, yet noticed by those to whom God had brought the attention, namely the shepherds and the Magi, whom we will hear about later.
So, what does this mean? God’s promise was to send a Savior, a Messiah, a Christ and the Savior would be identifiable because He would be the One who would fulfill all these criteria. He would be the one who would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in a virgin woman. He would be the one who would be from the line of Judah the son of Jacob or Israel, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. He would be born of the line of King David even born in his home town, which was brought about by the census. He would be the One who would die and in dying He would completely defeat Satan.
The odds of any one person fulfilling all these criteria would be great, yet that is what Jesus did, so that we can know for certain that He is the Christ. Indeed the very reason we have the prophecies and promise and the very reason we have the fulfillment spelled out for us in Holy Scripture is so that we can know for certain that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that by faith in Him we have life and salvation.
Perhaps you have heard it said, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” I am hear to tell you, “God said it, that settles it.” Whether or not I believe it does not matter. The focus is not on me. God said He would send a Christ and He did. God’s promises throughout the Old Testament pointed to the Christ. God’s Word throughout the New Testament points to Jesus as the Christ. Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Savior. God in flesh has done it all for us, for you and for me. He has lived perfectly for us in our place. He has taken our sins upon Himself. He has paid the price for our sins, restoring our relationship with Himself. He suffered, died and rose victorious over sin, death and the devil and now He is seated at the right hand of the Father watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. And He is waiting for the day He will gather us with Himself in heaven for eternity and our response is, thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Today is our New Year’s Day of sorts. Today is the first Sunday in the new church year. Our church year begins with Advent. The word advent means coming. The season of advent is the time we spend preparing for our celebration of Jesus’ coming to earth. We prepare ourselves for our celebration of God taking on human flesh and being born as one of us. What an awesome event. God intervening in human history to save all people from death and hell. Our text for today is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. In the seven verses of our text Paul outlines who God is and what He has done, notice that is past and completed action, what God has done for us. How fitting our text is at the beginning of this new church year as we prepare our hearts and minds for our Christmas celebration that Paul outlines the reason for our joy.
Our text begins with Paul saying, “3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). How easy one could read over those words and just continue on as if they were mere words, especially since they are often the words we hear at the beginning of many a sermon. But when we stop and take some time to unpack those fourteen words we see that Paul says a tremendous amount with such few words. Paul begins by invoking God’s grace upon us. God’s grace is His undeserved love for us. God’s grace is the love that He has for us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross earned our forgiveness. And it is only because of God’s grace, knowing that we are forgiven, that we can have true peace. True peace comes only from knowing we are forgiven and that we are no longer guilty. For most people peace is difficult because of guilt. Too many people spend too many restless night because of guilt. With forgiveness, the guilt is removed and one can have peace. True peace is that peace which comes from knowing the love of our Father in heaven, a love that so great that He gave the life of His Son for us.
But Paul does not stop there he continues, “4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (v. 4). Here we are reminded, again, that the grace about which Paul is speaking is the grace which comes at a price, the price of the cost of Jesus on the cross. The cost for our sins did not just vanish, the cost had to be paid and Jesus paid the price for our sins. He suffered the punishment, the eternal punishment, the eternal spiritual death penalty, which should have been ours to suffer. Paul rightly gives thanks to God for us, because without God’s grace we would be lost and condemned creatures, but with God’s grace, which we are given through His Word and Sacraments, we are forgiven children of God.
Paul continues in verse five, “5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge” (v. 5). It is through Jesus that we have been made new people. It is through Jesus that we have been enriched, we have been transformed, from being sinful human beings to being saints on our way to heaven. We are no longer what we were before, complete sinners and enemies of God, but we are not yet what we will be in the future, completely and only saints in heaven. We are somewhere in the middle. We are on our journey heavenward and with the help of the Holy Spirit we are enriched each day so that we continually conform our lives to God’s good and gracious will.
Paul continues in verse six, “—6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you” (v. 6). The Word of the Lord that Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians was not preached in vain, but took root in the hearts of the people and bore fruit which showed the affect of his preaching. In simple terms we might say that their faith was shown in the change of their behavior. No longer did they act like heathens and enemies of God but instead they lived their lives according to God’s good and gracious will.
In verse seven Paul says, “7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7). In particular Paul is speaking about the gift of grace. Our God is a generous God, so much so that His grace is continually poured out upon us. We never lack for God’s grace.
Verse eight reads, “8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). How can we be guiltless or blameless before the Lord on the day of judgement? In and of ourselves we cannot. But because of God’s grace, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are guiltless, we are blameless. And remember, this guiltlessness is what gives us peace. His righteousness is counted as our righteousness.
And we have God’s promise given through Paul in verse nine, “ 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 9). It is God who calls us to fellowship with His Son, we do not come seeking Him, He comes calling us. And note that it is God who is faithful, we are not the ones who are faithful. We have a tendency to forget our promises, to go back on our promises, but God is faithful, He never goes back on His promises, no matter what we do, He is faithful.
At our Baptism our Lord placed His name on us. He claimed us as His children. We have just heard Paul’s words of all that our Lord has done for us, undeserved as we are. So, what? What is our response to all that our Great God has done for us? Our response begins with giving thanks and praise to God. We give Him thanks and praise by coming to church to worship Him. We give Him thanks and praise by praying to Him and saying thank you, by singing hymns and songs of praise to Him. Even more, we praise and thank our Lord best when we do so with our very lives, when we live our lives according to His good and gracious will, bearing witness to all the world of who our God is and what He has done for us.
We respond to all the many good gifts and blessing we have been given to by our great God by overflowing and sharing God’s gifts with others. We do this through speaking to others, through telling others about Jesus, but even more by acting out what we have learned. Unfortunately it is difficult to allow God’s gifts to overflow from us when we reject and neglect to be given God’s gifts. When we absent ourselves from God’s Word and Sacraments then God cannot give us His gifts and without His gifts we cannot overflow and share them with others. Thanks be to God that as we come and are given His gifts that He pours out His gifts on us so much that we do overflow and share those gifts with others.
We respond to the good gifts and blessing we are given to by God when, with the help of and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we strive to strengthen our faith. You know, people who love to read always seem to find a book to read. People who love to hunt always try to find time to hunt or read magazines about hunting, or try to do anything that has something to do with hunting. People who love to golf always try to find time to golf, or read magazines about golfing, or try to do anything that has something to do with golfing. People who love to fish always try to find time to fish, or read magazines about fishing, or try to do anything that has something to do with fishing. People who love sports always try to find time for sports, or read magazines about sports, or try to do anything that has something to do with sports. The same things can be said about people who love any kind of activity, skating, exercise, bicycling, cooking, needle point, quilting and the list goes on. Why is it then that people who say they love the Lord try to find as many excuses as they can to keep from reading about the Lord, to keep from learning about the Lord, to keep from doing anything that has to do with the Lord? We respond to the good gifts and blessing we are given to by God when we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, strive to strengthen our faith. Indeed as you have heard me say before, faith shows itself in the desire to be when and where the gifts of God are given out and the opposite is true as well, for there to be no desire to be given the gifts of God would indicate a lack of faith. Here at St. Matthews we offer many opportunities to be given the gifts God has to give from the Wednesday morning Bible class, the monthly Saturday morning men’s breakfast Bible Study, the Bible study on Sunday morning as well as our regular Sunday Divine service and now during advent our midweek services as well as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. My prayer is that the Lord will move you to be a part of these opportunities to grow and be strengthened in your faith and my prayer continues to be that so many people will respond that we will need to add more times and places to study God’s Word and be filled with His good gifts and blessings.
We respond to the good gifts and blessing we are given to by God when, with the help of he Holy Spirit, we strive to be faithful. Praise the Lord because even when we are not faithful, He is faithful. Even when we forget to respond to His many good gifts and blessings He still remembers His promise to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He still remembers His promise to take us to heaven to be with Him forever in eternity.
Paul’s words of reminder of all that our Lord has done for us are good words to begin this new church year. Now we pray that the Holy Spirit will come into our hearts and lives and move us to respond, with His help, to be given all those gifts and blessing, to then give praise and glory to His Holy Name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Tomorrow has been declared by the President of the United States as a national day of thanksgiving. It has become sort of automatic that each year our President makes the same proclamation. Tomorrow is not a religious holy day as we think of most holidays, but tomorrow is a national, social day of giving thanks. And to whom do we give thanks? For us, we give thanks to the one we acknowledge as the giver of all good gifts and blessings. We give thanks to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This evening I would like to make three points from our text.
Our first point comes from Paul’s words, “6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v.6). By these words Paul encourages us to be in constant prayer to the Lord. That does not mean that we are to be constantly kneeling, bowing our heads, folding our hands and offering up prayers and petitions. It does mean that, really, our whole lives should be lived as a prayer to the Lord. We remember that prayer is a heart to heart talk with God, anytime and anywhere. I do not know about you, but I find myself in constant prayer to the Lord. Many times each day I find myself praying for one need or another, for one bit of rejoicing or another.
Paul also encourages us to give thanks as we present our requests to the Lord. We present our requests with thanks knowing and having confidence that the Lord will answer our prayer. And we know that the Lord will answer our prayer according to what He knows is best for us according to His good and gracious will, not necessarily according to what we might think we need. And yes, we even give thanks when our Lord in His infinite wisdom says, “no.”
The second point I will make this evening comes from Paul’s words, “7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v.7). This it the phrase we hear after many sermons, perhaps not from this translation, but from another. Just as our hearing the Word of the Lord gives us true peace, so as our lives become a prayer to the Lord, He will give us true peace. True peace is that peace which is not simply a worldly peace, not simply a few moments or even an hour of earthly calm and serenity, but true peace is that peace which comes from knowing our sins are forgiven, because with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation. What other, or better peace can we have than to know that our eternity is set, that heaven is a present reality.
God’s peace is a peace that is beyond all understanding. His peace is beyond our understanding because we cannot understand how God could love us so much that He would give the life of His Son for ours. We cannot understand how a Creator could love His wayward creation so much that He would reconcile the debt the creation owes its Creator. It is the life of His Son on the cross which earned for us our forgiveness and eternal life.
Paul gives his life as an example of the transforming power of God’s peace. God’s peace is that which makes it possible for us to be content in all things. It is God’s peace which makes it possible for us to keep our thoughts and minds on all things true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. And we remain in God’s peace by being in His Word.
Another example that Paul gives concerning the power of peace in his life is the example of contentment. He has learned to be content by learning the difference between wants and needs. As blessed as we are in this country, we continually have a difficulty understanding this difference. Most of us probably believe that a telephone in every room of the house is a necessity, or every member of the family having a phone, or that a television in every room, or today, a computer in every room is a necessity. We believe having more than one change of clothes or more than one pair of shoes is a necessity. We have been and are so blessed that many of the things we have we believe to be necessary. Paul helps us distinguish what is necessary and what is simply a want. Please understand, to want things beyond what is necessary is not in and of itself wrong. What is sin is when our wants dictate our actions and so consume us that we forget what is important. Paul’s example is one which we would do well to imitate as we live in the peace of the Lord.
The third point I would like to make this evening comes from Paul’s words, “19And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (v. 19). When it comes to contentment we learn to be content by learning that it is the Lord who gives first. The Lord gives us everything that we need and even more than we want. I have challenged many people from time to time and I will offer than same challenge to you. Can you name even one thing that is yours that did not in some way come from God? In one way or another, everything we have, except our sin, has its beginning with our Lord. What we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours and everything else is simply on loan to us from God while we live in this world. Being content begins with learning the difference between wants and needs. Again, for us in America, most of us have so many things. We have more than we need and many times, more than we could want, although I know we can always want more. Tomorrow and truly every day is the day to take time to give thanks for all those things, the things we need and the things we have that are wants.
The second part of contentment is to respond in thanks. Being content is recognizing that all things, in one way or another, come from God and then thanking Him for all His good gifts and blessings.
And as the Lord gives and as we return a portion from what He has first given with thanksgiving to the Lord, He gives us even more. He does this to remind us that we cannot out give Him. The Lord gives to us everything we need and He gives to us a whole lot more.
As we celebrate our national day of thanksgiving we do so by giving thanks. I guess I do not see how a family can sit down at a thanksgiving meal and not give thanks, yet there are many who will do so tomorrow. I do not see how a family can begin a day of thanksgiving without first giving thanks to the Lord for He is the giver of all good gifts and blessings.
As I think about the gifts that God gives I am reminded that; first the Lord has given me the gift of life. He gave me that gift at my conception. The first spiritual and really the most important gift I was given by the Lord happened thirteen days after my birth and that was the gift of new life at my baptism. At my baptism the Lord gave me the gift of faith, forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. He has provided this forgiveness by giving His Son and the life of His Son, yes, even His own life as God in flesh so that I might have this forgiveness, but not just me, He has provided this forgiveness for all people. And with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation, indeed there is no greater gift.
But I know that God has not just given me these spiritual gifts, although with just those gifts I know that I am especially blessed by God. God gives me physical things as well. He has provide me with a loving wife and four loving children. He has provided for us a nice house which we are making into a nice home. He allows for me to arise each day as each day is a gift from Him. He gives me the ability each day to do whatever work He has prepared for me to do. He has brought us to this congregation to love and be loved by the members of this congregation. He gives me food and clothing. He gives me all that I need. He even gives me more than I need and more than I want.
He also stirs in me to give thanks. I know that in and of myself I am a selfish person. I take what God gives me and I always want more. That is why I am so thankful that the Lord also stirs in me a desire to give Him thanks for all that He gives to me, for all His good gifts and blessings.
I am going to leave here this evening. I am going to wake up in the morning and around noon I am going to eat some turkey and southern cornbread dressing. I am going to watch one or even both and maybe even three football games. I am going to enjoy the company of my family and friends. I am so glad that you have been with me this evening to begin our Thanksgiving celebration right, by coming to Divine Service, to be given God’s gifts through His Word and by being able to give Him thanks and praise for all His good gifts and blessings. May the Lord be with you this day, tomorrow and always as you give thanks to Him. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.