Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What Is Confirmation?

    Many of us grew up being taught and believing something of the sort that confirmation was the time that one would confirm their baptismal vow. Yet, when we parse that statement we realize that we do not make a vow at our baptism, rather God is the one doing the doing and giving the gifts. So the question again is, “What is confirmation?”
    Notice, as always, we get it right when we point, not to ourselves, but to Jesus. Confirmation is something we do, but only after something has been done to us and for us. As we recall, the Church stands or falls on the doctrine of Justification, that is that we are made just and right in God’s eyes by God Himself. Just as a drowning person cannot save themself, or they would not be drowning, so we cannot save ourselves. Our salvation must and does come from outside of us, it comes from Christ. In the waters of Holy Baptism with God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God imputes faith, that is He puts faith in our hearts. God gives faith. As we grow in our faith through the means of God’s Word, in Sunday School and in reading our Bible, the Holy Spirit works through these means to strengthen and keep us in faith and then to help us to do what is right which we call sanctification. And yet, just as our justification begins and ends with Jesus, He is the on doing the justifying and making us just and right in God’s eyes, so even in sanctification the Holy Spirit is the One doing the doing, moving in us to make good decisions. So, in pointing to Jesus, Confirmation is the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of those who have been instructed in the Christian faith to speak words of affirmation of the faith which God has given them in the baptism.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Our Attitude, like Christ’s - March 29, 2015 - Palm Sunday - Text: Philippians 2:5-11

This day is a day that three young men have been working and looking forward to for two years. And I do have to say it, this is not their graduation day. This is their day of confirmation and really this is the day that they are considered adults in the church. With that “change of status” comes the responsibility to take the initiative in their spiritual life, meaning, being an active member, being involved in worship and Bible class, being involved with areas of service, and beginning to get interested and involved in serving on the boards and committees of this congregation. Today is the day that they are to take on the attitude of Christ that Paul describes for us in our text for today.
    
we look at our text, the first thing I want to say about our text is that it is thought that this text may have been a part of an early Christian creed which was spoken during a worship service, similar to how we speak the Nicene or Apostles’ Creeds. Our text begins by telling us about Jesus Christ, and specifically, about His attitude. Paul says, “5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (v. 5-6). Paul exhorts us to have the mind, that is, the attitude, of Jesus. This is what I just said about our confirmands, that they are to have the attitude of Christ, and really, we are all to have the attitude of Christ. Okay, so what is the attitude of Christ?
 
The attitude of Christ has its foundation in the fact that He is true God. As true God He was enjoying all the glory that was His. He was in heaven where He freely used all His divine attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and the like. He was in heaven being God, watching over us, ruling over us, taking care of us. He was in heaven enjoying the eternal bliss of heaven. And we might be thinking, that is an easy attitude to have, enjoying heaven.
 
Yet, His attitude is what moved Him to give up all that was His in heaven. He gave up all the glory that was His in heaven in order to show how much He loved us, His creation. He gave up the use of His divine attributes, so that while He was here on this earth He did not always use His divine attributes or power, nor did He use them to their full potential. He gave up enjoying the eternal bliss of heaven. His attitude was that He gave up all this, not because He had to or was forced to, but because of His love for us.
 
His attitude is that He humbled Himself. As Paul continues, “7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (V. 7-8). Paul says, Jesus emptied Himself, that is, He made a decision not to use His divine attributes to their fullest. Did you notice Him doing this? Remember when He was tempted by the devil in the desert, He did not change the rock into bread. Did you notice that He did not raise everyone who had died from the dead. He did not heal everyone in the world. Yes, He used some of His divine attributes to some extend, but He did not fully use them as He could, as God.
 
In His love for us He took on human flesh and blood. He was born as a human. He was born, lowly, in a small town. He had a manger, an animals feeding trough, for His first bed. His parents were not wealthy or of seeming nobility, although He was born from the line of King David. He lived a rather obscure life. We do not hear anything about Him from birth until age twelve. Then we do not hear anything about Him until He reaches thirty and is ready to begin His earthly ministry and mission. He did not seek to be rich, or famous and or powerful, which are the things we deem as being great in our world today.
 
His greatest humility is in this, that He humbled Himself to the point of death. He was obedient to the Father’s will. He took all our sins upon Himself. Our sins of pride, greed, envy, and lust. Our sins of wanting our own way even to the detriment of others. Our sins of neglecting our own spiritual well being, absenting ourselves from worship and Bible Class, not reading God’s Word and praying to Him. He took all these sins upon Himself. He became sin for us. Not because He had too, but because He wanted to. Yes, because He wanted to, because of His great love for us.
 
He is our prophet, priest and king. As our priest He went to the altar to make sacrifices for us. As our Savior He became the sacrifice for us, in our place, once and for all, on the cross. He suffered the cruellest of deaths. He suffered the most humiliating and shameful of deaths. He suffered so that we might not have to suffer. He suffered so that we might have forgiveness of sins and life. Think about it this way, if He had not humbled Himself, if He had not suffered for our sins, if He had not died, we would still be in our sins and if we were still in our sins that would ultimately mean eternal spiritual death and hell for us.
 
After His suffering, as Paul continues in our text, “9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (v. 9-11). Paul says, “therefore.” Therefore, because of what He did for us, Jesus was exalted. God the Father exalted Him so that now He is seated at the right hand of the Father. He has returned to the place from where He came. He has returned to the right hand of the Father. There He is interceding for us, praying for us, watching over us, ruling over us, and guiding and directing all our doings in this life.
 
There, at the right hand of the Father, in heaven, He enjoys all the glory that is rightfully His, that He had given up for us. Paul tells us what John tells us in Revelation, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and in earth. All creation will bow before the Lord, both those who believe and those who do not believe. In the end all people will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, some will confess to the demise, other to their eternal glory.
 
And, every tongue will confess, in heaven and in earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Again, Paul tells us the same thing John tells us in Revelation. The unbelievers will confess and then will try to blame God for their unbelief. The believers, we faithful Christians, will rejoice and sing praises to the Holy Name of the Lord.
 
Likewise, as Paul tells us, so should our attitude be. This morning we have the privilege of confirming three young men of our congregation. Certainly our text speaks to them. As they have worked hard for two years in order to reach this point, the point of confirmation, so we pray that they now realize that this is not an end, this is not a graduation, but this is just a beginning. For them, and really, for all of us, to take on the attitude of Christ is to understand and acknowledge that when it comes to knowing God, the more we learn about Him, the more we can see that there is so much more that we do not know about Him. And that reminds us that there is even more reason to continue on with our own instruction in God’s Word, continuing to be a part of a Sunday Bible class, continuing to read God’s Word at home, and to have personal and family devotions, continuing to humbly learn and grow in faith. This is taking on Christ’s attitude.
 
Again, I can never say it too much, Confirmation is not graduation. Confirmation, as defined in our catechism, is “a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community.” And the catechism also notes, “Prior to admission to the Lord’s Supper, it is necessary to be instructed in the Christian faith (1 Cor. 11:28). The rite of confirmation provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God’s promise given in Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ.”
 
Notice, as always, we get it right when we point, not to ourselves, but to Jesus. Confirmation is something we do, but only after something has been done to us and for us. As we recall, the Church stands or falls on the doctrine of Justification, that is that we are made just and right in God’s eyes by God Himself. Just as a drowning person cannot save themself, or they would not be drowning, so we cannot save ourselves. Our salvation must and does come from outside of us, it comes from Christ. In the waters of Holy Baptism with God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God imputes faith, that is He puts faith in our hearts. God gives faith. As we grow in our faith through the means of God’s Word, in Sunday School and in reading our Bible, the Holy Spirit works through these means to strengthen and keep us in faith and then to help us to do what is right which we call sanctification. And yet, just as our justification begins and ends with Jesus, He is the on doing the justifying and making us just and right in God’s eyes, so even in sanctification the Holy Spirit is the One doing the doing, moving in us to make good decisions. So, in pointing to Jesus, Confirmation is the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of these young men to speak words of affirmation of the faith which God has given them in the baptism, two of the three of which I had the privilege of God baptizing them with my hands.
 
Confirmation, then, is kind of a new beginning. Confirmation is a rite marking our beginning to be responsible for our own spiritual life, with the help of the Holy Spirit of course. To those of us who have already been confirmed, I ask you, do you remember your confirmation and what it meant for you? Did it give you any incentive to be more self-responsible? Did your confirmation make you what I will suggest to these confirmands? That is, that now is the time to not depend so much on your mom or dad to wake you to tell you it is time to get up and get ready for church and Bible class, but to take the initiative on your own to get up and get ready. I think that would be a part of taking on the attitude of Christ.
 
I would summarize this morning by saying that Confirmation is a time to continue in the attitude of Christ, to continue in living a life to the glory of God by continuing to be in the Word and partake of the Sacrament, and to be willing to give your life for Him. May God grant you the will and the strength to live in such a way. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What Is Truth? - Lent Midweek Six - March 25, 2015 - Text: John 18:37-38

Our text is John 18:37-38: “37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” This is our text.
 
A child at Vacation Bible School once asked, “How do we know the Bible is true?” My first thought was that this is the same question that Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” And as we will hear and as we well know, the answer to Pilate’s question of “What is truth?” was sitting right in front of him. Indeed Jesus is truth. And the “truth” is that apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth.
 
Sociologist attempt to put history into some bit of sociological categories in order to help us better understanding people of particular eras of history. We hear about the baby boomers, the gen-xers, the millennials, we hear about the modern world, the post-modern world as well as the post-Christian world. All of these categories tend to be spoken of in certain generalities which are meant to help us understand the way people live and move and have their being, the way people act at various times in history. I say these are spoken of in generalities, which is a nice way of saying profiling, or as we said in days gone by, stereotyping.
    For a while it was said that we were living in a post-modern world and I have to admit, I am not sure what is the category we are supposed to be in today. Anyway, in this post-modern world and yet even today it is said that one generality is that truth is relative. It is said that what may be true for you may not be true for me and what may be true for me may not be true for you. Of course, those of us who believe there are certain truths which are undeniable, have a difficult time with those who refuse to acknowledge such truths as it were.
 
Again, today in our post-modern or beyond world, we are told there are no absolutes, and as some have declared, and I would say tongue in cheek, there are absolutely no absolutes. Of course that sounds a lot like someone saying “I cannot tolerate intolerant people.”  Unfortunately, the person who declares there are no absolutes does so either realizing or not that if there are no absolutes then there also is or can be no morality nor ethics.
 
And once again in our post-modern and beyond world and even in our world today, for many people it is their feelings that for them determines fact, in other words, if I feel it, then it must be true, at least for me. All this information means is that truth becomes subjective and in essence, I become my own god determining what is true or not, at least in my own little world.
 
I would suppose that it may not have been much different in Jesus’ day, and I say that simply from the fact of Pilate’s statement when confronted with the ultimate truth, Jesus Himself. Pilate had a hard time with what was true, especially concerning Jesus. Pilate had a hard enough time distinguishing between Roman rule and Jewish customs, let alone attempting to understand Jesus, true God in human flesh.
    Also Pilate did not understand Jesus, a king, living as a servant. Why would Jesus allow this to happen to Himself if He was a king, even a god? For Pilate none of the accusations, none of the hype and hoopla made any sense. And so Pilate did not understand truth, especially not as he was hearing it.
 
So, what is truth? What was truth for Pilate and what is truth for us even today? For Pilate, truth was what the Roman government said was truth. For too many people today, truth is what they feel to be truth, thus it is often neither rational nor logical for the simple reason that feelings can be deceptive and one cannot depend on their own feelings at any given time. To paraphrase and modernize Scrooge’s words in the Christmas Carol, one bit of bad food can make one feel all kinds of bad things.
 
As Christians we understand that apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus there truly can be no truth. As you have heard me say time and again, when it comes to the witness of man, when it comes to the writings and sayings of fallible human beings versus the witness of God’s Word, I am going to side with God’s Word every time. Human beings get it wrong. God never gets it wrong. Jesus is true God in human flesh, thus He always gets it right. God’s Word has never and never will change. What God speaks in His Word is faithful and true.
 
Again, apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus there is and can be no truth. Jesus is truth because He is God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Jesus is truth because He was there at the creation of the world bringing truth into this world. Jesus is truth because He is the one who has traded the truth of His perfection for the lie of our sins and imperfections. Jesus is truth because He sends His Holy Spirit to work through the truth of His Word to give the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
Thus, Jesus alone is and gives truth. Even as He says Himself, He is the way, the truth and the life and apart from Jesus there is no salvation. Jesus is the one and only one way to eternal life in heaven. Jesus is the one and only truth. Jesus is the one and only one way to eternal life. When challenged by the Pharisees we have Jesus response: “13So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father  who sent me. 17In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:13-19).
 
Jesus is truth and God’s Word is truth. Again I will say it, fallible human beings get it wrong, God never gets it wrong.
 
What does this mean? Our world will continue to have a problem with truth and even more so as Jesus is shoved further and further out. As the church, even the seeming so called Christian church succumbs to the temptations of the world and accommodates the beliefs of the culture, more and more giving up the faith of Holy Scripture, the more and more there will be the question of what is truth as truth will simply be nothing more than my own idea of what is mete, right and salutary for me at any given moment, because what is right for me now may not be right for me later and so my truth is fluid, this is truth now, something else is truth later.
 
When and only when we as a Christian church and congregation adopt God’s plan as His children moved into the promised land, not that we are to wipe out the people of our world, but when and only when we stand up and defend the truth of the Word of God, will true truth abound. God’s Word is truth and we know His Word is truth. We have and know the truth because Jesus is the truth, He is the way, the truth and the life.
 
Finally, the truth is that by grace, through faith, we are saved. Just as grace and salvation points outside of oneself, so truth must point outside oneself, it must point to Jesus alone. I get it wrong, Jesus gets it right. My feelings change, God’s Word is always the same. I cannot depend on myself, but I can always depend on Jesus.
 
“What is truth?” is the question that is often asked today, perhaps not directly, but indirectly. Sometimes it is asked as in “Did God really say or mean what He said?” We answer with a resounding God is truth, Jesus is truth and only by faith in Jesus do we know the truth and with the truth we have life and salvation. Thanks be to God for His truth, Jesus. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Learning Obedience - March 22, 2015 - Fifth Sunday in Lent - Text: Hebrews 5:1-10


The word “obey” is not necessarily a popular word in our world today. To some it gives a negative connotation of being inferior or under someone else, or to be in someone else’s control. Even my dictionary says that part of being obedient is to submit to another’s control. Here in America we have come to believe that we are self-made people, that we make our own decisions and that we are under no one’s control. This lack of control, lack of obedience is one reason for chaos and anarchy in our society today. The problem is that we have come to misunderstand that we are not free from control, it is just the controller, so to speak, who has changed. Paul would describe it this way, we are no longer under the control of our loving Lord, rather we are under the control of sin. We are obedient, whether we want to be or not, it is just where does our obedience lay? In our Epistle lesson we read of Jesus’ obedience and where that lead.
 
The writer to the Hebrews first lays out the Office of the High Priest. We begin at verse one, “1For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; 6as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek’” (v. 1-6).
 
The high priest who would offer sacrifices was the one who was elected from his brethren. He did not elect or appoint himself.  Every year on the day of atonement the chosen Priest would enter the most Holy place to offer sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people.
 
Not only was this high priest elected from his brethren, he was also called and appointed by God. Thus, we see two parts to the election to the office of the high priest, that is that one is elected from his people and one is chosen by God. This election reflects the calling processes of our church body in calling a man to be a pastor in any given congregation, that is that a man does not elect himself or call himself to be a pastor, but he is chosen by a congregation and this choosing is as directed by God. To put it more succinctly, God calls the man through the congregation to be the pastor in that congregation.
 
The writer to the Hebrews now moves to speaking about our Great High Priest, even Jesus Himself. Our text continues with verse seven, “7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (v. 7). The first image that comes to mind is the image of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. As we read through each of the four gospels we continually find Jesus in prayer, but the most vivid image of Jesus in prayer is when He was in the Garden praying, even pleading, that there might be some other way to save the world. Jesus was a human being. He had the human emotion of humiliation and of not wanting to be crucified. But while praying in the Garden, as He always did, He prayed for the will of the Father. Jesus did not try to get out of doing the Father’s will, rather He prayed so the He might be sure of the Father’s will and being sure of His Fathers will He proceeded with confidence to lay down His life for the world.
 
God the Father answered Jesus’ prayer, not by taking the crucifixion from Him, but by giving Him the strength to go through His suffering and death and ultimately by raising Him from the dead. God the Father answered Jesus’ prayer in that through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection He saved all people from their sins. He saved us, you and me from our sins.
 
Moving on and picking up at verse eight we read about true obedience, “8Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (v. 8-10). Jesus was obedient. He was a perfect child.  He was a perfect teenager. He was a perfect adult. He was perfect and obedient in all things. He did what Adam and Eve were unable to do. He did what the nation of Israel was unable to do. He did what we are unable to do. He was perfectly obedient and ultimately He was perfectly obedient in our place, for us, to the point of death.
 
His perfect obedience became the source of our eternal salvation. By faith in Jesus, His perfect obedience has become our perfect obedience. By faith in Jesus, His death has become our death and ultimately His resurrection will become our resurrection. Even in our Gospel Lesson Jesus refers to His obedience unto death, meaning that this was the fulfillment of the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world and through it He would be glorified.
 
The words of our text offer to us Jesus as an example of a high priest and specifically Jesus is called our High Priest. One of the jobs of a high priest was to pray for the people. Jesus as High Priest prayed for the people. Again, going back to the four gospels we have account after account showing Jesus in prayer, praying for the people.
 
As our high priest Jesus prays for us. Jesus stands before God the Father, our eternal judge, and prays for us. As we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, Jesus confesses us before the Father and pleads for us along with our plea.
 
Another job of the high priest was to offer sacrifices for the people. The people would bring a spotless lamb which the priest would sacrifice for the sins of the people. The problem with this sacrifice was that it had to be repeated over and over again, because the people continued to sin. The reason for these sacrifices was to show that blood had to be shed. The price for sin is death. The blood of an innocent lamb was shed for the forgiveness of sins of the guilty person. Being that people are sinful and do not stop sinning, sacrifices had to continually be made.
 
But, Jesus was a different High Priest. As our High Priest Jesus offered Himself, a sinless person, as a sacrifice for us. His sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice. His sacrifice accomplished for all people of all time and all places what the other sacrifices only pointed to, this ultimate sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross made all other sacrifices obsolete. No longer do we or anyone else need to make any kind of sacrifice to remind us of the price of sin. Jesus’ obedient suffering, death, and resurrection accomplished the forgiveness of all people of all time and all places, once and for all. Thanks be to God.
 
What does this mean? First, we must remember that in these historic accounts from the Bible as we learn about Jesus there is no moral to the story. I get quite concerned when I hear people talking about the moral of the story, especially when the reference is a Biblical parable or narrative account. The moral of the story is good for fables and the like, but with God’s Word there is no moral to the story, there is only law and gospel. So, first we must remember that the main message from God’s Words always is what God has done for us, and in today’s lesson, specifically, what God has done for us in and through Christ Jesus. Remembering what God has done for us then we move to seeing Jesus’ life as an example of how we are to live our lives. Right from the start then we will realize that Jesus was perfect and we are not, so any attempt to live as Jesus is really an attempt at futility on our part. But thanks be to God that He has sent us His Holy Spirit, so that with the Holy Spirit working in and through us we can accomplish great things. With the Holy Spirit working in and through us we can live our lives following Jesus’ example, but of course it is not we who are doing these great things, but God working through us, thus we say as always, to God alone be the glory.
 
Because of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, because we see Him in prayer, we learn that we too need to pray and that we can go to Him in prayer because He has experienced all the problems we are dealing with and even more. We can pray to Him because He understands all our trials and tribulations because He has already experienced the same ones and has overcome. We know that, because He has overcome, He will help us to overcome and win out in the end.
 
From Jesus we learn persistence in prayer, again with the help of the Holy Spirit. We know that God always answers prayer, even though sometimes His answer is no. We pray in all sincerity, with strength of belief and in persistence but we remember that these are not the reasons God answers our prayers. God answers our prayers for Jesus’ sake. That is why we always end our prayers in Jesus’ name, remembering that He too is pleading our case before our Father in heaven.
 
From Jesus we learn what true submission and obedience really is.  True submission and true obedience is to know that God answers prayer according to our need and according to His good and gracious will, according to what He knows we need. Perhaps that is reason enough that we should end our prayers, not only praying that God’s will be done, but also that we be able to accept whatever is God’s will.
 
From Jesus we learn obedience, but we realize that it is not our obedience that saves us, rather it is Jesus’ obedience that saved us. With the help of the Holy Spirit we too can be obedient as a response to what Jesus has done for us.
 
No matter how hard we try we can never be free from some kind of control. There is something or someone to which we will always be obedient. We can either remain in our sin and remain under that control, being obedient to sin, or we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit become obedient to our Lord. Obedience to the Lord entails remaining faithful, that is living our lives to His glory, despite what negatives that may have for our lives, including our own obedience to death. Jesus said it this way, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Love for our own life goes back to the garden of Eden and the desire to be our own gods. Hating our own life goes back to Jesus and His death on the cross because of our sins; we hate what our lives of sin have done for Jesus. Because of His great love for us, Jesus was obedient, for us, in our place, obedient even to the point of death. Now, remembering that in pointing to Jesus we are reminded that we love only because He first loves us, and we are obedient only as He has first been completely obedient giving His life for ours, knowing that we are saved by God’s grace, not by our works, yet saved to the good works which God has initiated beforehand, my prayer is that you will not resist the working of the Holy Spirit so that He might have control of your life and work such obedience in you. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. And to Him be the glory. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Kingdom Is Not of This World - Lent Midweek Five - March 18, 2015 - Text: John 18:33-37

Our text is John 18:33-37: “33So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” This is our text.
 
In confirmation we always have the question, “What does this mean?” followed by the answer, “We should . . . ” Interestingly, I have been told that in German the question really is, “What is this?” implying that we are not searching for some, perhaps mystical answer to the meaning of some bit of theology or doctrine, but we are asking what did God say and answering that God surely  meant what He said. This evening we get to a very significant question, one that is misconstrued by those who teach the new theology of rapture and millenialism in our world today, that is the question concerning the kingdom of God.
 
To understand the Kingdom of God, we must first go back to the first promise of a Savior, a Messiah, a Christ. In Genesis we read of God creating a good, even a very good, that is a perfect world and we read how as long as God was running the show everything was running rather smoothly. When we get to Adam and Eve running the show in chapter three, we see how quickly they mess up the good that God had given. By being disobedient to God they brought sin and God’s curse on this once perfect world. And yet, because of God’s great love for us, we also hear God’s first promise to send a Savior, a Messiah, even a Christ and this promise was given in the Garden of Eden and this is the beginning of the Christian faith and church.
 
More than once God reiterated His promise. Notice He reiterated His promise, He did not make a new promise, nor a second promise, but reiterated His promise and narrowed the line of fulfillment of that promise by promising that through Abraham the Savior of the world, the Messiah, the Christ would be born. And with Abraham God expanded His promise. He told Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation a nation of kings and most importantly that the Savior of all people of the whole world would be born through His line.
 
To Abraham’s great grandson, God narrowed His promise even more so that through the line of Judah the Christ would be born. Also, through the line of Judah the promise was that there would always be a ruler on the throne, in other words, the king of Israel would be from the line of Judah, but this promise was never meant as a strictly earthly promise, but this promise was one that pointed heavenward, as we will see.
 
And ultimately, God promised that the Messiah would be born from the line of King David, thus He would be royalty, a King of Israel. And yet, even this promise was not meant simply as an earthly promise of earthly royalty and an earthly kingdom. Indeed, the promise was that the Christ would be King of Kings and Lord of Lords, indeed, prophet, priest and king.
 
At Jesus’ birth the fulfillment of the promise of the Christ began. According to the promise, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the home of King David, thus Jesus fulfilled this prophecy concerning the Savior, the Christ.
 
At the same time, as we follow the genealogies of the Gospel writers, Jesus was born of the line of Judah and King David, again, making Him one in the line of royalty and also fulfilling another of God’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, the Christ, the Savior.
 
Indeed, Jesus was born as King, and the visit of the Wisemen, the Magi confirmed Jesus royalty. Their gifts of gold, a gift for a king, incense, a gift for a priest, and myrrh, a gift for a prophet pointed to Jesus threefold office as prophet, priest and king. At the same time we see that Jesus did not seek any earthly rule. Jesus understood that His kingdom was an eternal kingdom, that His role of salvation was an eternal role, one of forgiveness of sins.
 
Jesus lived His life such that although He truly was and is King, even King of Kings, He lived as a servant. Jesus never lived His life seeking to be served while here on this earth. He came to seek and to save the lost. He came to serve, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to raise the dead, to comfort the downtrodden. Most importantly Jesus lived His life as our substitute. Everything He did, He did for you and for me because of His great love for us, His children, His creation.
 
After Jesus lived, suffered, died, and rose He ascended into heaven, the place from which He had descended in order to live for us. Jesus is now in heaven, not that we attempt to permanently locate Him in heaven, because He continues to be truly God meaning that He continues to be everywhere present. But now Jesus does live in heaven. He lives in heaven where He is being given all the glory that was His and that He had given up in order to take on human flesh and blood. He lives in heaven where He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
 
Jesus is in heaven where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. What great joy and comfort we have in knowing that Jesus never slumbers nor sleeps, but He is always watching over us. What great joy and comfort to know that even while there may be chaos in our world, Jesus is in heaven ruling over us. And what great joy and comfort to know that Jesus is in heaven where He too is praying and interceding for us before His and our heavenly Father.
 
We know that one day, one day soon, Jesus will come again. He will return to take us to heaven to live with Him for eternity as our great King. The fact of the matter is, we will meet Jesus, either at our own passing, or at His return, but that day will come and I believe that day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. We are living in the end times, in the last days as Jesus birth ushered in these last days.
 
Until our Lord and Savior Jesus returns we wait with great hope and certainty. We wait in joy and certainty because we know that our great King, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, Jesus has done it all and continues to do it all and gives it all to us. Indeed, we rest assured that our salvation has been taken care of because Jesus has taken care of all that needs to be done. We look, not into ourselves, but outside ourselves, to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, the One who accomplished our salvation for us.
 
Jesus is true God who gave up the glory that was His in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood, in order to intervene in human history in order to save His creation, all mankind. God’s promise of a Savior was a promise which would find its fulfillment in an earthly kingdom, namely the kingdom of Israel and the line of King David. Yet, God’s promise was never a promise for an eternal earthly kingdom, rather His promise, His earthly promise always had as its ultimate fulfillment in an eternal heavenly kingdom, one in which Jesus would sit on the throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We rejoice and celebrate that by grace, through faith, given to us by our Lord, through His means of grace, we are a part of the eternal kingdom. We rejoice that as the Lord has taken care of all that we need for our eternal salvation, so He will continue in heaven to take care of all our needs as well. Our response is simply a response of faith and joy saying, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dead and Alive - March 15, 2015 - Fourth Sunday in Lent - Text: Ephesians 2:1-10

Our text for this morning contains a very familiar verse and one that is particularly important for us as Lutherans, the verse which reminds us that we are saved by God’s grace, through the faith which He gives to us, and not by our works. This verse is one which is important to us and sets us apart from other religions, cults and sects and even from many other denominations. Not only is our text for this morning familiar, so are the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson.
 
In the Old Testament lesson we hear the account of the grumbling of the children of Israel in the wilderness. As we follow the life of the children of Israel, we know that God took care of them, watched over them, provided for all their needs and yet, they still found things to complain about. In the Old Testament reading for today we hear them complaining about a lack of food and water, as if God had not provided these in the past and as if He would not continue to provide these for them now. They sound a lot like we sound today. God has provided for all our needs and yet, at times, we tend to doubt if He will continue to provide for our needs today and tomorrow. We would rather trust in ourselves than in Him. In the Old Testament reading we are introduced to what is called a type of Christ. A type of Christ is something which looks like Christ will look like when He comes. In the Old Testament reading the serpent is the type of Christ. The serpent is that thing which brought death, but is also that thing which would bring life. If a person was bitten by the serpent, the person would die, unless that same person looked at the image of the serpent on the pole which would then bring life to that person.
 
In the Gospel Lesson we are given what we call the antitype, that is Christ Himself. Christ is the antitype. Christ is a human being, as well as truly God. In Genesis we are reminded that  Adam, a human being, brought death into the world. In the Gospel lesson we are reminded of Christ, a human being, who brings life into the world. Thus, as a serpent brought death, so a man brought death and as one looked at the serpent on the cross to gain life, so we look at a man, Christ on the cross to gain life, eternal life. Paul expounds on this in our text for this morning when he reminds us that our salvation is ours by God’s free grace.
 
Paul begins by laying out our condition. We being with verse one, “1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (v. 1-3).
 
Paul reminds us that we are spiritually dead. We are conceived and born in sin. From moment of conception we are spiritually dead. And just as a physically dead persons cannot raise himself, so it is with spiritually dead people, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Indeed and unfortunate it is that there are those that would suggest that we are to reach out to God, we are to choose, accept, or do something, anything to save ourselves, which is just as impossible as it is for someone to raise themselves from the dead.
 
Not only are we spiritually dead, we are also spiritually blind. We are so wrapped up and involved in our sinfulness we cannot see how sinful we really are. We cannot see what is right or good. Indeed and again unfortunate are those who do not see their spiritual blindness and so unwittingly lead others to think they can do something, even anything to bring themselves alive from spiritual death.
 
Thus, we are also enemies of God. If we are not for God, we are against Him. Paul says it this way, that we “follow the prince of the power of the air,” in other words, we follow Satan. Yes, we are enemies of God,  fighting against Him. This fighting against God is, or rather, happens before Christ has His way with us, in other words, this was our condition.
 
After laying out our condition, Paul lays out God’s rich mercy. We continue at verse four, “4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v. 4-7).
 
God shows His great love for us in this that He raised us up with His grace and He did this while we were yet sinners. We talked about this a couple weeks ago, that is that someone might give their life for someone or some cause deemed worthy, but for someone or some cause deemed unworthy this would never happen. Yet, God shows His great love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, while we were sinning and fighting against Him, He gave His life for ours. This is just as John spells it out for us in our Gospel reading for this morning, the Gospel in a nutshell as we call it.
 
God in Christ has given His life for ours, yet God is not through with His giving. He also gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. As we talked about last week and many times before, the greatest gift we are given is the gift of forgiveness of sins, because with forgiveness of sins is life and salvation.
 
And here, our Lord gives us a glimpse of His immeasurable riches in heaven. Our God is a gift giving God. He gives and we are given to. And when our Lord gives He does not give some now and hold off and give some more later. There are no conditions on His giving, that is that He will give us some now and if we do this or if we do that He will gives us more later. No, our Lord always gives us the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more.
 
Finally, in our text for this morning we have the infamous words that remind us that we are saved by grace through faith. We pick up at verse eight, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 8-10).
 
We are saved by grace and I do like how this is spelled out as, grace is “God’s riches at Christ expense.” God’s grace is His undeserved love. We do not deserve any of the gifts our Lord gives. As a matter of fact, this is what Paul is so well laying out for us, we are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. There is no reason we should imagine that God owes us anything. And the more sinful we realize we are, the greater God’s great grace is understood. Yet, as we know, God’s grace did not come without a cost. While it costs us nothing, it cost Christ His life.
 
We are saved by grace and through faith. This faith is something that is given to us as well, This faith is given through the means of grace and this faith is the instrument which grabs hold of and makes the rest of the gifts ours. Thus, we see that not only is faith important, but the object of faith is important. Not only does it matter that we believe, it also matters in whom we believe.
 
And finally, Paul does bring up the issue of good works. We are saved for a purpose, to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. Thus, we see that these are not good works we initiate, but these are good works which God initiates, which God works in and through us and which are done to His glory. Always the focus going back to our Lord. And what are these good works which God prepared in advance for us to do? They are works which the Holy Spirit works in and through us, so we can take no credit in these good works. They are good works which begin with loving God and loving our neighbor, and we show these good works by living confident lives of faith, that is by living with a joyous trusting attitude in all things. They are good works which include encouraging each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, encouraging each other in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are good works which include spreading the good news of Jesus. They are good works which give glory to our great Lord.
 
What Does This Mean? We live in a world in which many people are looking for meaning and purpose. For too long we have been taught, and unfortunately too many people believe, that we are simply a product of many thousands of accidents. Our Christian country has digressed to the point of being a country in which there are some Christians. As we look at the three lessons for this morning and in particular as we look at these texts wrapped up in our text, Paul reminds us, as Moses does in Numbers and as John does in his Gospel, that we do have a purpose. Our purpose in life is first and foremost that God created us to love us. As we were reminded last week, parents do not have children in order to be served by them, but parents have children in order to love them, care for them and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so our Lord created us, not to serve Him, as if He needs anything from us, but in order to love us, care for us and bring us up in His nurture and admonition.
 
God created us. We sin. God redeems us. God created us to love us and to do for us. At the same time, God redeemed us for a purpose, to do good works. But, lest we think in terms of our good works as something we do on our own, let us remind ourselves that our good works are good works because they are good works which He works in and through us. Remember Paul’s words, that these are good works which were prepared beforehand. God is the one who initiates. God initiated in the creation of the world. God initiated in our redemption. God initiates or gives us faith, bringing us from spiritual death to eternal life. And now we see that God initiated in our sanctification.
 
What a Great God we have. God does, God gives and we are done to and we are given to. And even when God does and gives, we continue to follow our former ways of resisting and sinning. We tend so much to be like the children of Israel. Thanks be to God that He does not and will not give up on us. Thanks be to God that He continues to do for us and give to us.
 
What a great trio of lessons we have again this morning. With God’s Word, we cannot go wrong. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” So that, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us,” has taken care of everything. God gives and we are given to. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Let the Christ Come Down - Lent Midweek Four - March 11, 2015 - Text: Mark 15:29-32

Our text is Mark 15:29-32: “29And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.” This is our text.
 
Have you ever been caught beating your children? Have you ever been caught beating your spouse? That is one of those questions which cannot be answered with a yes or a no, because if you were to answer no, then it may be implied that you do beat your children or your spouse. This evening we hear the chief priests and the scribes mock Jesus with somewhat of a similar dilemma, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
 
The purpose for Jesus’ life was to live, suffer, die and rise. As you have heard me say time and again, the fullness of the Gospel is not simply that Jesus died and rose. Certainly that is the Gospel message and that is Gospel. Jesus died for us paying the price for our sins and rising defeating death and that is important. But the fulness of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus lived for us. God’s command and demand since creating was that we are perfect and we cannot be perfect. We can not live perfectly. We are conceived and born in sin. We sin actual sins, sins of omission, not doing as we should and sins of commission, doing things we should not be doing. We sin and we sin and we sin. We just cannot help ourselves. On the other hand, Jesus was true God, thus He was conceived and born in perfection. And so, He lived perfectly for us in our place because we cannot live perfectly. He lived perfectly as our substitute.
 
Jesus was born of the human woman, Mary and so He was truly a human man. He had to be a human in order to be able to trade His perfect life for our imperfect life. As our substitute Jesus took our sins, all our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission and commission, all our sins and He suffered on the cross for us. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place.
 
And Jesus died. And yes, that means that God died. Just as you and I will die and when we die our soul will separate from our body, so when Jesus died, His eternal being as God separated from His human body. And yet, because He is God, Jesus did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead defeating sin, death and the devil. The fact is He rose and He rose for us.
 
Now, the demand of the chief priests and the scribes, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe,” was a contradiction. The scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law had to admit that Jesus saved others in that He brought healing, cast out demons, raised from the dead. They could not deny these facts. As a matter of fact it was these facts of the signs, wonders and miracles that Jesus performed that upset them so even admitting that if Jesus kept doing these miracles the people would believe in Him. If only they would have believed in Jesus as the Messiah. The scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted proof that Jesus was the Savior, at least they wanted proof according to their own understanding or rather misunderstanding of who the Savior would be and of what a Savior would do, namely, they were seeking an earthly, social political Savior, not a sins forgiving Savior.
 
For us Jesus is our Savior because He did not come down from the cross. Jesus is our Savior because He lived perfectly for us, obeying all God’s commands, fulfilling all God’s prophecies, for us, in our place. Jesus is our Savior because He took all our sins and paid the full, complete price for all sin on the cross.
 
The scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law stated that they would believe in Jesus if He came down from the cross. The irony is that if He came down from the cross He would no longer be their Savior. If Jesus saved Himself, that is the only person He would have saved. Oh, they might then believe in Jesus, but He would no longer be their Savior.
 
For us we believe in Jesus, we believe His is our Savior, because He did what He said He would do. Just as God promised back in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior for all people; just as God promised Abraham, that through his offspring the Savior of the world would be born; just as God promised Mary and Joseph that there Son is God with us, Emmanuel, so, Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ.
 
What does this mean? Some religions, cults and sects do not believe Jesus to be God or Savior because they do not believe God could or would die. They believe that God is above dying. They believe that they are not worthy of God dying for them. They do not understand what it means to have a God of love who created them to love them. So, instead of looking outside themselves to their God to save them, these religions, cults and sects then must point to themselves as if they are saving themselves.
 
The irony of these religions, cults and sects is much like that of the chief priests and scribes. These religions, cults and sects point to themselves believing they can do something to save themselves, but the fact is that they cannot save themselves because God’s demand is perfection and they cannot be perfect, so they are left unsure of their salvation.
 
Some religions, cults and sects do not believe Jesus to be God or Savior because they do not believe Jesus was God. They believe Jesus was just a man, a good, moral man who was a good example and no more. They believe that for a person to be saved they must follow Jesus good, moral example. Again, they point to themselves believing they can be good people or they can be the people God wants them to be all the while failing to see their own sinful nature, sin and faults.
 
Some religions, cults and sects actually believe that Jesus died but that instead of rising from the dead they believe He stayed dead. We might question them and ask, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then where is His body?
 
On the other hand, we believe, teach and confess that Jesus is truly God in human flesh. We believe that Jesus truly is true God because as we confess in the second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, He was true God begotten of the Father from eternity. And we believe that He was truly human, again as we confess, born of the virgin Mary. We believe the Jesus was true God so that He might be born in perfection and that He was true man so that He might be our substitute. We believe that His first purpose for being born was to live for us perfectly for us in our place because we cannot. Jesus lived for us and then He took all our sins upon Himself in order to suffer and pay the price for our sins, eternal spiritual death, hell in other words. Jesus lived, suffered and died. And yet, death and the grave had no hold over Him for on the third day He rose from the dead for us.
 
And we believe that as Jesus took our sins, paying the price for us sins, suffering what we should have suffered, at the same time He gives us His righteousness, His innocence, His holiness. Indeed, what we owe, eternal spiritual death He paid. And what we are given is what He earned, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
“Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Thanks be to God that the Christ, Jesus did not come down and save only Himself. Rather, thanks be to God that He lives for us, that He suffered for us, that He died for us, that He rose for us. Thanks be to God that He gives us faith, forgiveness and life. Thanks be to God for His truly indescribable gifts. And to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Wisdom and Strength - March 8, 2015 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

There seems to be a war going on in our world today, a war for the minds of people in general and a war for the minds of our children in particular. With the idealism that we want only the best for our children, that we want our children to have it better than we had it, that we really are looking out for what will make for a better future for our children, with that idealism we make such horrendous blunders in the name of education. With a great misunderstanding of wisdom and strength we make great strides toward raising the STAAR scores as well as college entrance exam SAT and ACT scores. We strive to make our children smarter than the children from other countries. More often than not all this striving is striving for human wisdom which our text reminds us is foolishness when compared to God’s wisdom.
 
Paul tells us that of the seeking of signs and wisdom there is no end. We have had sign seekers, of one kind or another, since the beginning of time. We have specially educated people who look into the sky to see what kind of weather we are going to have and when all is said and done their guess is usually no better than yours or mine. As we often joke, the job of a weather man is the only job one can have and be wrong more times than right and still keep his job. We have specially educated (and I say that loosely) people who look into the stars, or into cards, or tea leaves and so on to see what our future will bring. Today we have many sign seekers who want proof. We even have people in our own Christian churches who are seeking for signs as proof that a person is a Christian. We have forgotten what faith really is. Faith based on proof is no faith. But faith that is firmly based on the objective facts of the past and the hope of the future in heaven is true faith.
 
We have sign seekers and we have wisdom seekers. We have people who work for one degree after another thinking that if they just knew enough then they would have it made. And I have to admit that even I like to read, study and learn even more. But it gets worse, shall we say, as we even have people today who have studied so much that they believe they are smarter than the Bible. There are people who believe God’s word has become another book with stories that can be explained in human terms and there is nothing special about it. To these “educated” people, to believe in the so called miracles of the Bible is foolishness and is only for those people who need that as a crutch in their lives.
 
Is it no wonder that the proclamation of Christ crucified is a stumbling block? Why would anyone put their faith in someone who was condemned to die? Heros are not people who die, heros are people who overcome and win out in the end. The good always defeats the evil. Thus, Christ crucified is more than a stumbling block, it is a death trap, an eternal spiritual death trap.
 
Not only is Christ crucified a stumbling block, it is also foolishness. How can death be a way to life? It does not make sense to us that someone who is supposed to be our Savior dies. It is not logical that death is a way to life? To the unbeliever this is all foolishness.
 
But to those who are called, to the Christian, to us, it is the power and wisdom of God. No human being can raise another person from the dead, although our doctors and scientists are trying their best. Only the power of God can raise Christ from the dead. What more do we need as proof that Jesus is the Son of God than the witness of all those who saw Him alive after His resurrection.
 
Christ resurrection showed the power of God, but it also shows the wisdom of God to save us from our sins. Remember in the beginning, back at creation, God created the world and everything in it perfect and everything was perfect until Adam and Eve fell into sin. Adam and Eve’s sin separated them and us from God. Physical death is a result of that sin and eternal spiritual death is a result without faith in Jesus Christ. But, God in His grace immediately came up with the perfect plan to bring us back into a right relationship with Himself. His plan included the foolishness of the death of His only Son. Yet, even with that promise we continue to be sinners. Our Old Testament lesson for today is the account of the giving of the ten commandments. One quick skimming of those commandments puts us in our place and makes us realize what sinful people we really are. We constantly break our relationship with God by placing our human needs above our Lord, trusting in ourselves instead of relying completely on Him, by cursing and swearing, by neglecting to be in God’s Word, through personal reading of our Bible, through personal and family devotions, by not being in Bible Class as well as by not being in worship every Sunday. We constantly break our relationship with our fellow human beings by being disobedient, not only to our parents, but also to those in authority over us, by killing and if not actual killing, by hurting and harming others through hating, name calling, and the like, through our lusting, through our stealing, through not only our gossiping, but also our listening to gossip, through our discontent and coveting. We break these commandments in thought, word, and in deed. And we break these commandments by doing something we are not supposed to do and by not doing what we are supposed to do.
 
Praise the Lord for the power and wisdom of God. Praise the Lord that His weakness is stronger than our power. We may think we have power, well, after all, we can blow up the earth, but in His power God said, “Let there be” and there was. God alone can create and destroy matter. We human beings can only change the matter which our Lord has created for us.
 
Praise the Lord that His foolishness is wiser than our wisdom. We may think we are wise, especially when we begin to explain the processes that occur in our world. This is where we need to constantly remind ourselves, lest we forget, that we are merely explaining processes. It is God who created all the processes, how long has it taken us to understand just a few? Oh, there are people who would like to explain away the world according to chance, but the faith it would take to believe those theories is much greater than the faith the Lord gives us to believe His truth.
 
From time to time I see a car with the Christian fish made with legs and the name “Darwin” inscribe in the middle. I have always wondered what it would be like to stop the person and asked, “So, how many years did it take for all those parts to come together by themselves to make your car?” Certainly, the person would have look at me like I was crazy. And I did leave out the whole problem of where did the parts come from in the first place. If you would ask anyone this question they would think you were out of your mind. Yet, no one seems to mind suggesting that our bodies, which are even more complex than a car, evolved over millions of years. How much greater is the foolishness of God than the greatest wisdom of man.
  
What Does This Mean? There are basically two religions in the world. There is man’s religion and there is God’s religion. The religion of man is based on self-righteousness, on man’s reaching up to God, on man’s ability, his character, his working out his own salvation, his attempting to be the person God wants him to be. Basically, according to man’s religion, one must earn his or her salvation. A person is to do good and then he or she is saved.
 
And then there is God’s religion. God’s religion is based on grace. God does it all and gives it all. And God does it all and gives it all even though we are undeserving of any and all that He does and has to give. God gives salvation and then a person is motivated, again, by God, to respond, that is to do and to live.
 
Thus, the cross is foolishness to the self-righteous and so they do not hear the preaching of the cross. The cross is simply another reminder of our sin and our inability to do anything about our sin. We like to think of ourselves as basically good people. Have you noticed how the people of our world flock to these churches that, basically tell people they are good people. And if we are basically good people, then we do not need anyone to pay any price for our sins, because basically we do not have any sin. This is man’s wisdom. Or should I say, “This is man’s wisdom?” (Said in a questioning tone). Remember, as I said last week and as I have said numerous times before, the forgiveness of sins is our greatest need and the greatest gift we are given to by God. For, without forgiveness, we are yet in our sins and we would be destined to eternal spiritual death. When we think we are so good that we have no need for forgiveness, when we are not reminded of our sins so that we confess, then we remain in our sins and our destiny is set.
 
Yet, as we see, there are many in our world today who revel in this foolishness and in this powerlessness. People flock to churches and seminars where they are told how good they really are and how they can do some many good things to please the Lord. There are many who believe God wants and even needs something from them. Here again we see human wisdom at its best. As Christians, as redeemed children of God, as sinners made saints through God’s grace which gives faith, forgiveness and eternal life we are certainly reminded, what could our God possibly need from us? He is the One who created us. He is the One who redeemed us. He is the One who is working in us our Sanctification. He created us in order to do for us and give to us, in order to love us. How many parents do you know have children so they can be served by their children? No, we have children in order to love them, care for them, and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We are God’s children and He created us to love us, care for us and nurture us.
 
So, if we are going to boast, then we only boast in the Lord. As we look at our three texts for this morning, we are reminded that we boast in the fact that our Lord loves us so much that He gives us the Ten Commandments, which point out our sins, so we do repent. We boast in the Lord, that Jesus is the Son of God, even God Himself, who came to earth to do for us what we are unable to do. That is, Jesus obeyed all the commandments perfectly for us and then took our sins of breaking all the commandments, and paid the price for our sins. And now we are reminded of the foolishness and weakness of our Lord, which are far greater than what we believe to be our wisdom and strength.
 
Praise the Lord that in His power and wisdom He did not let the weaknesses and foolishness of this world get in the way so that He did accomplish His plan of salvation so that by grace, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection we have the promise of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Destroy This Temple - Lent Midweek Three - March 4, 2015 - Text: Matthew 26:59-61

Our text is Matthew 26:59-61: “59Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” This is our text.
 
Some people speak in code, using code words or signs or signals to another to communicate. For some the choice of speech is satire, for others it is exaggeration, for some it is double entendre, for some it is picture language. Allegorical language incorporates inanimate objects for living things. Jesus often spoke in parables, what we have called earthly stories with heavenly meanings. When Jesus spoke the words He spoke in our text those listening may have wondered if He were mad or speaking metaphorically, or literally, or what. Even today people may have a difficult time with Jesus’ Words and understanding what He was saying, yet, we have the advantage of the Gospel writer explaining His Word to us.
 
In our text Jesus is speaking about the temple and as we will see we would say His usage of the word is a metaphor. The scene is that Jesus is standing in front of the temple building, the second temple building. The original temple that was built in Jerusalem, was built by King Solomon. The original temple was meant to be a place where God would dwell among His people, not that God needed a temple as He told King David when David first desired to build a temple, but a temple as a place where His glory may dwell on earth among men. Up until the time of the building of the temple by King Solomon, the Lord had tabernacled or tented among the people in the wilderness, in a movable tent.
 
After the original temple was destroyed and torn down this temple, the one before which Jesus is now standing  is the one that was rebuilt by the children of Israel. This temple was meant to be just like the first temple, a place for God to dwell among His people, as well as a place for the required sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins to be made. This physical temple building is where Jesus is standing when He speaks His words of destroying this temple, but His reference is not to the actual physical building as we will see.
 
Jesus is standing by the physical building of the temple but when Jesus is speaking about tearing down the temple, destroying the temple, He does not mean the physical building. We read in the book of Revelation that in heaven there will be no temple because there will be no need for a temple. Remember, the physical building of the temple meant God’s presence among His people. In heaven Jesus will be eternally present, thus there will be no need for a temple. Here in Jerusalem as Jesus is alive, living and moving among the Children of Israel, Jesus truly is God among His people as the living temple.
 
And so there is this misunderstanding of Jesus’ words and we might infer that for the Pharisees and teachers of the law this was a purposeful misunderstanding as their purpose was to find a reason to convict Jesus so they might be rid of Him. There were other times when Jesus did actually speak about the physical temple building and how it would one day be destroyed. But that was not the case at this time.
 
When Jesus spoke about the temple being destroyed and that in three days He would raise up the temple we know, understand and believe that He was speaking about His body that would be destroyed, that is He would die on the cross, but on the third day He would rise from the dead. Thus the temple about which Jesus is speaking is the temple of His body, even as today we continue to understand that our own bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, thus we are not our own for we were bought with a price, the price of Jesus own body.
 
Again, I would say there is an obvious misconstruing of Jesus’ Words, at least for us today, but even more so with the Pharisees who were looking for an accusation and a charge against Jesus. Of course, even with this obvious misconstruing of words the Pharisees still had a difficult time trying to convict Jesus. Remember, a person could not be convicted on the testimony of one person. Even today we know that a person cannot be convicted on the testimony of one person because the other person would testify to the exact opposite and so who would you believe. But a person could be convicted on the testimony of two witnesses and so two witnesses needed to be found.
 
So the search was on for two witnesses to testify against Jesus. As witnesses were paraded forward, each gave a testimony, but unfortunately for the Pharisees even with all the witnesses they were having difficulty with two giving the same testimony. So although many may have said similar things, the could not find two that really did agree. However, on this one charge and only on this one charge and that being a charge where in there was a misconstruing of Jesus’ Words was there some agreement.
 
What does this mean? As always we are reminded that God created us to love us. Adam and Eve messed up what God created as perfect and holy and so God promised to fix what man messed up. God’s promise was to send a Savior, a Messiah, a Christ for all people. God fulfilled that promise in Jesus. Jesus is true God in human flesh, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is God living among His people, living in time and history. Jesus is an historic person who entered human history to do for us and all mankind what we are unable to do.
 
Jesus was conceived, born and lived fulfilling all of God’s commands and promises, from the very beginning of the time that was given to us by our infinite God who lives in the eternal present and who has given time as a gift to us. Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place because we cannot live perfectly. Jesus never broke any of the commandments nor any of the law. Jesus did for us what we are unable to do. Then Jesus took our sins upon Himself. He traded our imperfection for His perfection. Indeed He traded His life for ours.
 
Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered the penalty for our sin, eternal spiritual death, hell in other words, for us in our place. What should have been ours to suffer He suffered. He suffered the complete suffering for all sins of all people, of all places, of all times. And He died. Yes, our God, in Jesus died. Just as you and I will some day face death, physical death, so Jesus died a physical death. His body was laid in a tomb and His spirit continued to live, rising to heaven. Jesus died, but He did not stay dead. On the third day since He had been placed in the tomb, He rose from the dead. With His death and resurrection He soundly, once for all, defeated sin, death and the devil.
 
And now Jesus gives us eternal life in heaven where He will live among us as our God and Lord, even as the very temple in our presence. With great joy we will live with Jesus in heaven. He will be the living temple so there will be no need for a temple, nor a sun and He will be the light. With great joy we will live with Him in His heaven forever in His eternal presence. And this is all gift given to us by Him who created us to love us and give His all to us.
 
The witnesses testified that Jesus said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.” Either way, either the physical building or His own body, yes, Jesus, who is God in flesh could do either. If it was His desire He could have torn down and rebuilt the physical temple in three days, after all, He created the whole world in six days. And yet, even more the temple of His body was destroyed, crucified on the cross, yet, death and the grave had no power over Him, as He did rise, physically rise on the third day. He showed Himself to be alive for forty days so that we might have confidence and know for sure that what He says in His word is faithful and true. And we truly only need the testimony of one witness, even Christ Himself whose testimony is true. And so, in the end we rejoice and give thanks as we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

We Have Been Justified (Accomplished Action) - March 1, 2015 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Romans 5:1-11

Computers are great inventions, at least, I believe they are. I remember getting my first computer and being very hesitant about doing anything wrong, after all, it was rather expensive and I did not want to break it. Then I discovered the “reset” button. I also remember my first word processing program. And then getting into a more powerful word processing program. Today these programs almost type what you want before you even think it. Most word processing programs have spell check and even a grammar checker. I tried using the grammar checker a couple times on my sermons, but I found that they do not really work, at least on sermons. Let me explain. The times I checked my sermons for grammar I kept getting corrected on using the passive voice. At first I was not sure what that meant, but as I learned, I realized that, grammatically speaking, I should use the active voice, in other words, I should be talking about how things are and how we are doing things, instead of the passive voice, that is how things were and how things are done even without any action or initiative of our own. Then I realized, although the active voice is good grammar and the passive voice should be avoided, that does not make for good theology. The passive voice and not the active voice are what make for good theology. In other words, I do not preach about what we have done or are doing or even have to do for our salvation, rather I talk about what God has done, how God acts on us, and how we are simply done to and given to. Now, that may not be good grammar, but that is great theology. And so, this morning we get even more great theology as Paul continues to use the passive voice in describing who God is and what He continues to do for us and in and through us.
 
We begin with a very familiar passage of Scripture where Paul talks about peace in suffering. We begin at verse one, “1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (v. 1-5).
 
As we know, faith is not something we get, do or proclaim, indeed as we confess in the explanation of the Third article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Rather we know and believe that God gives faith. God gives faith, not directly, but indirectly, that is through means. Through the means of grace, the Word, the Bible, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, God gives faith. It is this faith which God gives through these means that grasps all the other gifts God gives. Faith is the instrument which is what takes hold of and makes God’s gifts and blessings ours.
 
God gives faith and it is this faith which grasps forgiveness of sins, the most important gift. Perhaps you have heard me say this before, that the most important gift we are given is forgiveness of sins and maybe you have wondered why I say that. Forgiveness of sins is the most important gift we are given because without forgiveness of sins, we are left to suffer the punishment for sin, which is eternal spiritual death. It is only with forgiveness that we have life and salvation. And so we see the need, every Sunday, and even every day, for confession and absolution, that is to confess before God, all our sins in thought, word and deed, sins of omission and sins of commission. And it is important that we hear God’s words of absolution, that our sins are, that our sins have been, past tense, passive voice, forgiven. This is not something we accomplish but what has already been accomplished for us, outside of us and given to us.
 
God gives faith which grasps forgiveness of sins. With forgiveness of sins we are given peace. This peace is not a moment of calm during one’s hectic life, but this peace is true peace. This peace is the peace we have from the removal of sin and guilt. And that is true peace.
 
God gives faith, God gives forgiveness, and God gives peace. And with faith, forgiveness and peace we also have the hope of eternal life in heaven. This hope of eternal life in heaven is not a far off hope, but is a hope which is ours now. This hope is not a wishy washy maybe hope, but is a certainty. And this hope is a present reality, it is ours now. Certainly we will not move into our heavenly home until after we pass away from this world, but our place in heaven is secure, right at this very moment.
 
And so, while we remain in this world there may be suffering. This suffering is a result of temptation and sin. Ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, the whole world, the earth itself has been groaning, waiting for the end. Because we live in a world that has been tainted by sin, we will incur temptation and sin.
 
Last week we were reminded that God tempts no one to sin. We were also reminded that God may allow testing in our lives. This morning we are reminded that God uses suffering to produce endurance, character and hope. So, again, always pointing to that fact that God is the one doing the doing and we are being done to, that is, passively being done to.
 
But Paul is not finished. He reminds us even more of what God is doing and how He is doing it according to His own perfect timing. We pick up at verse six, “6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (v. 6-11).
 
Paul says, “at the right time,” that is at just the right time, the right time according to human history, the right time according to our need for a Savior. God’s timing is always perfect timing. When all the events of the world were where they needed to be, God sent His Son to give His life for ours. And Paul shows us the difference between man’s love and God’s love.
 
Man’s love is this that someone, some human being may give one’s life for a good person or even for a good cause, but for a person or cause we deem unworthy, probably not. Certainly we have heard of situations where a person may give bone marrow or a kidney, or some other “spare” body part, but not one’s life. Or, we may have heard of someone giving their life for someone deemed worthy as we understand the secret service men are to give their lives to save the president. But, that is about as far as we human beings will go.
 
On the other hand, God’s love is so much greater and He shows how His love is so much greater. God’s love is so great that He was willing and He did give His life for us while we were sinners. Well, after all, we are conceived and born in sin. Our natural inclination is to sin. We talked about that last week, even the fact that we love to sin because sinning is fun. And yet, to call ourselves sinners really does not do justice to how bad we really are. Not only are we sinners, but we are also enemies of God, actually fighting against Him. We are not simply passive sinners, but we are active sinners. We actively fight against God. We actively refuse and reject His gifts. We actively disobey all His commandments. And yet, God’s love is such that while we are active sinners, He gave His life for ours.
 
God’s love is shown in the shedding of Jesus’ blood. He shed His blood, that is He paid the price of His life, the price or cost for sin, for us. What we owed, He paid. Thus, we are saved from the wrath of God, because the wrath of God was taken out on Jesus.
 
When we talk about partaking of the Lord’s Supper in “remembrance” of Him, we understand that remembrance is a participation. Thus, we understand that Jesus’ life is our life. Jesus’ death is our death. And now, how much more do we understand that His life is our life.
 
All that is left is the rejoicing. All we can do is respond and interestingly enough, that is something we do passively as well. It is the Holy Spirit who moves in us to rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
    What Does This Mean? In and of ourselves, apart from Christ, we are lost and condemned persons. When we attempt to take an active role, our active role is that we are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and actually enemies of God, fighting and striving against Him. Of course, that is our nature after all and bad habits are hard to change.
 
Thanks be to God that Christ has taken an active role. In His active role Christ has taken care of everything. He has paid the price, notice past tense, that we owe. He paid the price, which is eternal spiritual death, by shedding His blood. Jesus actively obeyed all the law and the prophets perfectly, doing for His people, the children of Israel, what they were unable to do, and doing for us, His children by faith, faith given to us, what we are unable to do. He lived perfectly for us in our place. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered and paid the price for all our sins. He died, for us, in our place. And yet, death and the grave, as we know, had no power over Him. He rose, for us, in our place so that we know that we too will rise again.
 
Our response, then, again, is a passive response. Yes, God gives and we are given to. God has done it all and we have been done to. That may not be good grammar, but it is great theology and that is what is more important, great theology.
 
Christ does it all; dying to pay the price for our sins, while we were yet His enemies, fighting and sinning against Him; giving us faith so that we have peace, which comes from forgiveness of sin and guilt; strengthening us during times of suffering so that we have true hope which does not disappoint us; and stirring in us to rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And so, our response is to passively be given to and to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.