Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
This morning, as we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday, we have a guest preacher of sorts. As the first verse of our text tells us, “Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd...” With these words Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles, draws our attention to who is speaking in our text. Thus, this morning we come to hear Peter preach his Easter sermon.
Before we hear Peter’s sermon, however, let me simply say a couple words concerning the fact that this is Holy Trinity Sunday. In the Old Testament reading we hear the calling of Isaiah and we hear the triple “holy, holy, holy,” and the questions of the Lord in verse eight, “who will go for us,” an indication of the plurality of God. In the Gospel reading we have the confession of Nicodemus that Jesus is from God because of the works He was doing and we also have those great words we call the Gospel in a nutshell in John 3:16. You may notice, however, that as we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday that our texts really do not focus their attention on proving the plurality and oneness of God. You also may notice, throughout His life here on earth, Jesus never focuses His attention on proving anything either, rather He always pointed to His works. God does not have to prove anything to us His people. Rather, He simply gives us His Word, gives us faith, and gives us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give according to His good and gracious will and for that we give thanks.
Getting back to our text, Peter address the congregation, not with the words that we are used to hearing, “grace, mercy and peace be multiplied unto you from God our Father. . .,” but with the words “men of Israel.” Might I remind you that by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, thus we are a part of the children of Israel and rightly we would imagine that Peter is addressing us this morning. Peter begins with Jesus, His life and death. Jesus was a human being and He was God. He did signs, wonders, and miracles as “proof” of His divinity or His God-ness. In his Gospel, John continually points to Jesus’s signs and works of might, His miracles as “proof” of His divinity. Continually we hear of Jesus forgiving sins, healing, feeding crowds of people, casting out demons, raising people from the dead and the like. The Pharisees would always balk at Jesus’ announcement of forgiveness saying that only God can forgive sins. Then to show that He was God, Jesus would heal the person, because they knew that only God could heal. Thus, using their own logic, if Jesus could heal, if He was God, then He could also forgive sins. We might get bogged down in their logic, but we have the advantage of being able to look back at these events so we have already witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection and we know that He is the Messiah.
Peter reminds us that Jesus was born according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was born just as God told us in the promises of the Bible. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God promised to send a Savior. God reiterated that promise to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses and to many more throughout the history of the children of Israel. Jesus was born so that He might do what a whole nation could not do, so He could do what no one could do. Jesus was born in order live perfectly and so that He might fulfill all of the promises of God in Holy Scripture, perfectly.
And Peter gets personal. You know how it is, you do not mind if I, as your pastor, preach about sin, as long as I do not preach about your sin because when I preach about your sin then I am getting personal and I am getting nosey, or I am meddling. But it is okay of I preach about sin in general or if I preach about the sin of the person sitting next to you. Peter gets personal. He points the finger and his finger is pointing through time at us, at you and at me. He says, “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Jesus was put to death by human hands, the human hands of the listeners, our human hands. It was not the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, it was not the Romans who put Jesus to death. It was because of our sins that Jesus had to give His life. It was because of our sins of greed, envy, selfishness, gluttony, idolatry, cursing, swearing, irregular worship and devotion life, refusal of God’s gifts, name calling, lust, begrudging others, gossip, coveting and the like. It was because of our sins of thought, word and deed. It was because of our sins of omission, failing to do what God would have us to do, failing to be the people He would have us to be. And it was because of our sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. Yes, it was because of us. It was because of you and me. We put Jesus on the cross.
But the good news is that Jesus did not stay dead. A few years back while talking to a group of children. We were talking about Jesus dying on the cross. Of course, I never like to leave the children, or anyone for that matter, with Jesus being dead. I always like to end with the good news. And so I said, “but Jesus did not stay dead, He rose from the dead.” And with those words one of child, whom I would guess had never heard the story, said, “Nuh uh!” And of course I responded very theologically and eloquently by saying, “Uh huh!” At Easter and really, every Sunday for us Christians, we come to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Yes, we just moved through what we call the Easter season, the seven weeks of Easter, but we do not cease celebrating Easter. That is why we worship on Sunday because for us Christians, each and every Sunday is an Easter celebration, a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. We come to worship, not a dead God, but a living God. We come to celebrate that Jesus did rise from the dead, just as God promised. Jesus’ resurrection was not something that should have been a surprise to the children of Israel and it should not be a surprise to us. His resurrection was predicted by King David as Peter points out by quoting from Psalm 16, “‘25bI saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence’” (Acts 2:25b-28).
Peter quotes David who was glad that, although he would die, he knew he had eternal life. He knew that although he would die, his body would be resurrected. And He predicted that Jesus’ body would not see decay, because He would rise on the third day. Of course there are many other passages of Holy Scripture that Peter could have quoted, but this is the one he quotes for us this morning. Jesus’ resurrection was not something about which it was not known that it would happen. God said it would happen, He promised it. He reiterated His promise time and again through the prophets of the Bible. Unfortunately, many people missed it. Many were like the Pharisees and even Jesus’ own disciples who had misinterpreted the promises of old and who had come to look for and believe that the Messiah would be an earthly King. Peter quotes the words of King David, given to Him by God, which are a clear testimony and promise that the Messiah would come and die, yet His body would not see decay, because God would not allow that to happen and because He did not stay dead, but rose from the dead. David is certain and we can be certain that because Jesus rose, bodily rose, we too will rise again. Death and the grave have no power over us.
Peter’s sermon are words that remind us that he was a witness to these events. He was with Jesus throughout His three years of ministry and His death. He was one of the chosen twelve who were Jesus’ disciples. Just as David died and was buried and his tomb is “here today” as Peter says, so he was a witness of Jesus death on the cross and he was a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter says they are the same, he has witnessed David’s tomb, it is a real thing and he witnessed Jesus’ life, His ministry and preaching, His death, and His resurrection. And it was not just once that Peter saw Jesus alive, but several times. Between His resurrection and His ascension, forty days after Easter, Jesus showed Himself many times to His disciples and to many others.
Peter is preaching to a crowd of people who know what he is talking about because they were a part of these events. They saw Jesus, they heard Him preach, they were healed by Him, they were fed by Him, they saw Him suffer and die on the cross, it may be that some of them were the ones in the crowd who praised Him as He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and it may even be that some were the ones who shouted for His crucifixion at His trial. And it could be that some of them had even seen Jesus after His resurrection.
Peter preaches succinctly, these are the facts! Peter comes to us this morning and preaches just as succinctly, these are the facts.
What does this mean for us today? It means that we have confidence in our faith in Jesus. We rest assured that Jesus is who He says He is and that He is who the Bible says He is, that is, He is the Messiah, God in human flesh, the Savior of the world, your Savior and mine. We make use of the Bible just as Peter did. We go back to the promises of the Old Testament and see how they have all been fulfilled in Jesus, in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection.
We have confidence in our certainty of forgiveness. Because Jesus gave His life for ours, because Jesus died the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place, because of all that Jesus has done, we have forgiveness of sins. The price, the cost, of our sins, death, eternal spiritual death (the wages of sin is death), has been paid. Our sins have been forgiven, cast away as far as the east is from the west, so far have they been removed from us.
We have confidence in our certainty of eternal life. Heaven is ours, now. It is a present reality. Heaven is a gift, given to us by Jesus who earned it for us. Because Jesus rose from the dead we know that we too will rise again.
This morning we want to thank Peter for his words of confidence and assurance to us. We thank Peter for reminding us that Jesus fulfilled all things. We might summarize the message we heard this morning with the words of the explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed. And as we listen again to these words of explanation, we may be reminded, once again of the plurality in the oneness of our God who shows Himself to be a triune God. “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Not too long after the flood waters had subsided, Noah and his family, his wife, his three sons and their wives began repopulating the earth. By the time we get to chapter eleven of Genesis, just two chapters after the flood, the world has already begun crumbling back to its old sinful self. And then we get to the account of the tower of Babel. Remember the Tower of Babel? The people of the world were working to make a name for themselves; that is a nice way of saying they were perceiving themselves as being their own gods and goddesses. Instead of spreading out and filling the world, instead of subduing the world, as the Lord had commanded them after the flood, they stayed in one place, the put their minds together and they began looking to make a name for themselves. The Lord’s response was quick and sure. He came down and He confused their languages and from there the people were scattered, as He told them to do in the first place, and from there we have the initiation of the various culture and people groups which are present in our world today.
There is a lot of talk about races in our world today, which is actually a term that springs from the religion of evolution and the belief that certain “races” have evolved faster and above other races. I believe the teaching is that there are four major “races” that have evolved. Unfortunately if you look back at history, not revised history mind you, you can read of the many atrocities that came about because of these teachings. From the Bible we understand that there is only one race, the human race. At the tower of Babel what happened was that as the people of various languages moved to the various parts of the world, they took with them certain dominate genetic information so that certain culture and people groups are dominated with certain dominate physical characteristics. In our text for today we read of how many of these culture and people groups speaking many different languages had all gathered in Jerusalem when the Lord sent the promised Comforter.
Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The day of Pentecost was fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection and ten days after His ascension. Also, in the year of Jesus’ death and resurrection, this day coincided with the Jewish festival of Pentecost which was not unlike our Thanksgiving celebration. This day, that is the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit, is called, by some, the undoing of the day of the confusing of the tongues at the tower of Babel. For the children of Israel, the day of Pentecost was given as a day to celebrated the harvest festival. This was the second great Jewish festival, after the Passover celebration.
Because this was an important festival, Jews came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage from around the world to celebrate. I certainly believe that this too was a part of God’s plan, that His death and resurrection corresponded to this day, which He has now given to us as a day of celebration of the sending of the Holy Spirit. As we are told by our Lord, at just the right time, Jesus came into the world. Because this was an important Israelite holiday, there were many Jews in Jerusalem and many from the various cultures around the world who spoke different languages.
So, what happened at the giving of the Holy Spirit? Luke outlines the visible phenomena. He says that they heard a great wind. I guess that makes sense, because you cannot see wind, but we certainly know how, when a big storm arises, we can hear the wind and we can see the branches and bushes as the wind blows them. Luke describes the wind as a “mighty rush of wind.” And he says, “it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” So, this was not some natural phenomena that was occurring outside, but this was a supernatural phenomena that was happening in the house where they had gathered.
Next Luke tells “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.” This fire is an image of divine presence, thus they knew that this was something from the Lord. The tongues appeared, certainly as a metaphor, symbolizing what was about to happen next, namely the speaking in tongues, or the languages of the people who had gathered and were present in Jerusalem from the various parts of the world.
Which brings us to Luke telling us that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This gift of tongues was not simply a babbling as some would think of speaking in tongues in our modern world. This gift of tongues was indeed the gift of languages, that is these disciples, these uneducated men were now, without any formal training, able to speak in languages or literally in the dialects of which they were not able to speak in before. Thus, at the tower of Babel the languages of the people were confused, so now the Lord gives the ability to speak in the languages of all the people.
Luke outlines the visible phenomena and then he explains the invisible phenomena. How is all this happening? All of this is happening as a gift of the Holy Spirit. God is directing these doings. God is giving the gifts and the disciples and the people are being given to. This is what Jesus promised to His disciples just ten days earlier at His ascension when He told them to wait in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Why is this important? Why is the ability to speak in other languages important? Because all these pilgrims to Jerusalem would be able to hear the Gospel message, the message of Jesus’ life, His suffering, His death and resurrection and then they would be able to take that message back to the people of their homes and countries and share the message with them. It is the same in our churches each and every Sunday. It is so important that we rightly hear the message of law, of our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission, not doing what we are supposed to be doing and our sins of commission, doing what we are supposed to be doing. It is so important that we understand our role, our part in putting Jesus on the cross, that is that He died for you and for me. It is so important that we hear the law so that we might hear the Gospel, the Good news of Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection for us, in our place so that we are assured of our own forgiveness and our eternal salvation. The sending of the Holy Spirit today is just as important as at the first Pentecost.
Again, the first Pentecost is what some refer to as the reversal of the tower of Babel. At the tower of Babel the languages were confused and people moved to the various places around the world. Unfortunately many of the fathers failed to share the message with their children and so many were lost because they no longer had the message or heard the message. And that is why, today, we have so many people groups and cultures who do not know Jesus, because their fathers failed to share the message with them. Now, today, there is a new opportunity for the message to be heard.
The day of Pentecost is also important, especially for the Apostles and disciples of Jesus, because at the giving of the Holy Spirit, God now gives a complete understanding of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Remember, before Jesus’ death, whenever Jesus spoke about death and dying, His disciples did not understand. Now they have a complete understanding.
And so, they are also given boldness. Now that they understand the purpose of Jesus’ life, that is that He lived for them and for us. Now that they understand the purpose of Jesus’ death, that He died for them and for us. Now that they understand His resurrection, that He is and remains a living God, watching over, ruling over, and interceding for them and us. Now that they understand that He has sent the Holy Spirit so that He is with them and us, even to the end of the world. Now they no longer need to fear. They no longer need to be afraid of the Pharisees, or the teachers of the law, or the Romans, or anyone. Now they may freely, with all boldness and confidence, go out and proclaim the message of salvation, by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.
What does this mean for us today? Today we continue to celebrate Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit continues to come to us today. Today He comes to us through means and in particular through the means of grace, the Word, that is the Bible and the Sacraments, that is, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and through Confession and Absolution. Through these means our Lord comes to us to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
And what are those good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us? Through these means of grace the Holy Spirit gives, strengthens and keeps in faith. Through these means of grace the Holy Spirit gives forgiveness, life and salvation. Our Lord’s usual way of coming to us today is not to come to us directly. In other words, in Jesus’ day and immediately following His resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued for a short time, coming directly through His apostles and disciples so that His Word through them might be confirmed as just and right and true. As time moved on and the days of the apostles ended, our Lord decreased His immediate activity among us. Even though our Lord may choose to come to us directly today, that is not His usual way of coming to us. Today His usual way of coming to us is to come through means namely through the means of grace. Thus, we see the importance of making regular and diligent use of these means. In other words, to make regular use of the means of grace means to be in worship as often as worship is offered. To be diligent in use of the means of grace means to pay attention to the proclamation of the Gospel. To make regular use of the means of grace means to personally, daily, read the word of God or hear it read, to have personal and family devotions. To be diligent about these means of grace means, again, to pay attention to that Word. To make regular use of the means of grace means to daily remember your baptism and how at your baptism the Lord washed you and put His name on you. He forgave you, He wrote your name in the book of Life. To make regular use of the means of grace means to hunger and thirst for the Lord and to come to His Table to eat and drink His body and blood at His holy supper. For, to absent ourselves from these means takes away the means through which our Lord comes to gives us His good gifts and blessings. To absent ourselves from these means would be like refusing gifts at your birthday or at Christmas or even refusing food on a daily basis. Thus, we certainly see the importance of these means of grace.
But, not only does the Holy Spirit give us individual gifts, faith, forgiveness, earned by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, life and salvation. The Holy Spirit also gives gifts to the Church, that is, the Holy Spirit gives the Church, His Holy Christian Church, all that it needs to be His Church here on this earth.
And finally, the Holy Spirit also continues to give us boldness. Our nature is certainly not the nature of our Lord. Our nature is to sin. Our nature is not to make use of the means of grace. Our nature is not to acknowledge our Lord. And so, our Lord takes care of this weakness in us as well. For the Holy Spirit works in us and through us to, with all boldness and confidence, respond to all our Lord has done, all He does and all He will continue to do for us, by living lives of faith as He would have us to live. And yet, even here we fail and so He must continue working in and through us. Notice again, our focus is always back on our Lord who gives all and does all.
Today we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus continues to send today. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit always points to Christ, who has taken care of everything for us, namely our forgiveness, life and salvation. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit works in us to give us, strengthen us and keep us in faith. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit works in us to respond to the faith given by moving in us, stirring in us, working in and through us to believe the message of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, to live that message in our lives, and to speak words of thanks and praise to our Lord for all that He does for us. Yes, to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Last Thursday was an important day in our Church calendar. Unfortunately, not too many people celebrate or make a big deal about it, but Thursday was Ascension day. Ascension day is the day we celebrate, or at least are reminded of Jesus’ ascension into heaven after showing Himself alive for forty days. And now, today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, which means next Sunday is Pentecost. The following Sunday we will celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday and then we will be back into what is called the non-festival portion of the church year and the Sundays after Pentecost. So, today and this week we complete the Easter Season, but of course, we never complete our Easter celebration. As Christians, we now worship on Sunday because each and every Sunday is for us a mini-Easter celebration.
In our first reading for this morning, from Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke gives the account of Peter giving testimony of Christ. Jesus had ascended and the disciples had returned to Jerusalem. They were all in the upper room when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit spoke words concerning Judas’ demise and the election of a disciple to take his place. And of course, we remember that Mathias was the disciple who took Judas’ place.
In the Gospel reading for this morning we have the account of Jesus in prayer, giving testimony of Himself. This prayer was offered by Jesus before His death and resurrection and in a sense, as we heard the first lesson from Acts we heard how this prayer was indeed answered. Both the first lesson and our Gospel lesson speak of this testimony, this witness of Jesus Christ and who was and is.
In our text, the Apostle John writes to help us to understand and to have confidence in the testimony of Holy Scripture. First, he compares the testimony or the Word of God with the testimony or the word of man. The word of man may give some testimony of this world. Anyone can pick up any history book and gain insight into the events of history during any particular period of time. However, most people, as they read books of history, also understand that even books of history are written according to the writer’s perspective or presuppositions. It is known for a fact some history writers, at times wrote in a particular way in order to save their own skins. In other words, if they had written simply the blatant facts, they may have lost their lives. So, instead they wrote in order to make a particular ruler look good in the history book.
On the other hand, the Bible gives God’s testimony of Christ. God, being God, is not concerned about His own skin. And, God, being God, was there at the beginning and has been everywhere through all of time, so certainly He can attest to and we can believe His word of testimony. Here in our text, in particular, John tells us we can believe God’s testimony concerning Jesus. So, we may believe that the word of man may be true or not so true, but the Word of God we know is always true.
Yet, there is more about the Word of God. The Bible, the Word of God is not just a book like any other book. Take for instance a math book or an English book or a social studies book or a science book. These may be good books to help one understand numbers, language, peoples, or how things function in our world, but that is the extent of their usefulness. The Bible, on the other hand, is a book with power. The Bible is not like these other books, because these other books can simply teach, instruct or inform. The Bible actually does what it says.
We call the Bible a means of grace. The Bible is one way, one means, through which our Lord comes to us to give us the gifts and blessings He has to give. We understand the other means of grace are confession and absolution as well as the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Speaking of the Bible as a means of grace, we know the Bible is the Word of God. It does not simply contain the word of God as if we would need to be a detective and find which is and which is not that word of God. To reduce the Bible to merely containing the word of God would be to undermine its very foundation. As we understand, know and believe, the Bible is the Word of God, it is a means of grace and as such it gives gifts. It gives faith. When we read or hear the Word of God proclaimed, the Holy Spirit works through that word to give us faith. And even more, it works to give us faith in Jesus. We recognize that not only is faith important, but the object of faith is just as important. To believe in a tree, no matter how strong your faith or how sincere your faith in that tree we know that tree will not save you. To believe in Jesus will and does save you. The Word gives faith.
The Word gives forgiveness. Yet even as the Word gives forgiveness we know that this forgiveness may be refused and we do refuse forgiveness all the time. Whenever we fail to acknowledge and confess our sins, we are refusing forgiveness. Thus, we see the importance of the Word of God proclaiming the Law which tells us what sin is, how often we sin, and indeed, how great a sinner each one of us really is. As we confess at the beginning of worship, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we believe we are without sin this shows our lack of understanding what sin is and it also shows our refusal of forgiveness, because if we have no sin then there is no reason to seek forgiveness. But, “when we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we recognize how sinful we really are, that is that we are the reason Jesus had to die on the cross, then we confess and our Lord opens the floodgates of forgiveness and pours out His grace on us. It is when we realize how sinful we are that we realize how great God’s love for us is, a love which gives life and sheds blood.
The Word gives faith, it gives forgiveness and with forgiveness it gives life, even eternal life. The greatest gift we are given by God is forgiveness of sins. It is forgiveness that opens the door to eternal life. Without forgiveness we remain in our sins and we have only eternal spiritual death. But with forgiveness we are declared righteous, we are declared saints, and we are given eternal life.
So, John shows us that God’s Word is a Word which is greater than man’s word and is a word which does what it says. John also tells us, then, to not believe is to call God a liar. To not believe the Word of God is to refuse the gifts of faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. To not believe would be similar to having a check which you would refuse to attempt to cash because you believe it has no value. To not believe would be similar to having a large denomination of cash and refusing to spend it because you believe it to be a counterfeit. To not believe is to call God a liar, because normally one would not believe a liar.
What does this mean? This means we understand the importance of recognizing that the Bible is the Word of God. Some of you may have a Bible which states that the word of Jesus are printed in red. If that is the case, and the Bible is the Word of God, and Jesus is God, then would not the whole Bible be printed in red? If we take serious what we believe, that the Bible is the Word of God, then this would be a logical suggestion. Unfortunately, we tend to fail to recognize that the Bible is the Word of God, because on a daily basis we ignore and outright disobey God’s Word. But our disobedience does not take away the fact that it is God’s Word.
This means that we understand the importance of making regular and diligent use of the Word of God. Here again, as I stated many times before our priorities are not necessarily what we state them to be, but are actually what we live. We make time to do what we believe is important. We make time for our priorities. A musician makes time to practice playing the instrument he or she plays. An athlete makes time to practice his or her sport. A Christian makes time to listen to his or her Lord who speaks to him or her through the Bible which is His Word. Just as a musician or an athlete might get rusty as we say, from failing to practice, so we might get rusty in our faith when we fail to read and hear God’s Word. And we do know that ultimately, one could fall away from the faith if one makes it a regular habit to refuse to make use of the means of grace.
This means that we understand the importance of believing the Word of God. To simply be able to read the Bible or to simply accept the facts, the historical fact of the Bible will not save a person. James reminds us that the devil knows the Bible better than we know the Bible and yet he is condemned. To believe the Word of God is not simply to be able to recite Bible passages, but it is to believe with your whole heart, to stake your life on the fact that it is God’s gift to you. In essence the Bible truly is God’s love letter to us, showing His love for us, even to the point of His own death for us.
This means that we understand the importance of being given the gifts which God has to give. Faith, forgiveness and eternal life are not things we take from God, they are not things we claim for ourselves. Instead they are gifts which are given. How absurd for a child celebrating his birthday, to sit down in the middle of all his gifts, to open a gift and to announce, “look what I got for myself.” Even more absurd it would be for us, who have been plucked out of the mires of sin, death and hell, cleaned up, washed in the blood of the lamb, clothed with His righteousness, seated at His banqueting table, lavished with the best of foods, how absurd for us to spoon up a bite and say, “look what I got for myself.” No, these things are all gifts from God, gifts He has chosen to give to us, to bestow on us, to lavish on us. Gifts He has purchased and won for us.
Finally, I appreciate John’s words in verse thirteen. John writes and he writes for a purpose. His purpose in writing is so that “[we] may believe in the name of the Son of God and that [we] may know that [we] have eternal life.” The reason we have the Bible, the Word of God, is to give testimony of Jesus, His life, His suffering, His death and resurrection, His oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit, that He is the way, the truth and the life. And John’s testimony is trustworthy and true.
If we believe the word of other people, how much more willing are we to believe the Word of God? The Word of God is that Word which is efficacious, that is, it does what it says. It testifies of Jesus Christ, His life, suffering, death and resurrection for our salvation. It gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. It gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. It gives eternal hope. And our response is to be given to, to believe and to declare, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Today is the sixth Sunday of Easter, meaning we are 36 days out from Easter. Jesus has been showing Himself to be alive for these past 36 days and will continue to do so for another four days, because, as we well know, on Thursday of this week, May 14 we will celebrate Ascension Day, the day in which Jesus ascended back to heaven, the place from where He descended in order to take on human flesh and blood, live, suffer and die for us because of His great love for us. I pray everyone will celebrate Ascension Day and wish everyone they know a blessed Ascension Day.
Now please notice as I make this next statement that my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek; today is also one of those holidays given to us by our greeting card companies known as Mother’s Day, and I say the same thing about Father’s Day. But do not get me wrong, indeed I believe we should celebrate both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day because as I was reminded growing up, every day of the rest of the year seems to be children’s day. So, Happy Mother’s Day to our mothers and we are glad you are hear.
With those greetings, I think we should get to our text. Our text begins with John reminding us of the faith that has been given to us and our response of faith which is stirred in us. John begins by reminding us that the faith that is given to us is a faith that believes Jesus is the Christ and shows itself in love. John says, “1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whomever has been born of him” (v. 1). Notice that John does not put any conditions on faith and being given faith. He simply reminds us that to believe in Jesus is to be a child of God. One need not make a “decision” for Jesus, nor “claim” Jesus, nor anything else as if we are doing something to gain or earn faith. As Jesus reminds us that He would have us have faith as a child, so I would suggest, ask any child if he or she believes in Jesus and when they answer “yes” then know that they are a child of God. Yes, it is just that simple.
John continues by reminding us that this faith that is given to us is a faith that is shown in loving God and obeying His commandments. John says, “2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” (v. 2). Here we are reminded that faith and action, or faith and works do go hand in hand. We cannot hide our faith for our faith shows itself in love. Indeed, as God first loves us, as we are reminded by Jesus in our Gospel lesson for today, so we love others because we just cannot help it. To not love others would mean a rejection of God’s love. And the same is true with respect to obeying God’s commandments. The desire of faith is to be obedient to God’s commandments. The opposite would also be true, to not obey God’s commandments would mean a rejection of faith.
As John continues he reminds us that this faith that is given stirs in us a desire to keep God’s commandments and we do keep His commands which are not burdensome because of Jesus victory which He gives to us. John says, “3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith” (v. 3,4). God loves us so much and we see His love most expressively in Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross which brings victory over sin, death and the devil. This victory is ours and is given to us as the Holy Spirit gives us faith through the very means of God’s Word, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As the Holy Spirit gives us faith He gives us the ability to overcome temptation and sin and to be able to keep God’s commandments, even if not perfectly so.
John continues reminding us that this faith that is given is given so that by faith in Jesus His victory becomes our victory and this is perhaps a reference to the Lord’s Supper and our participation in Him. John says, “5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (v. 5). It is faith in Jesus, faith given to us, which overcomes this world and ultimately brings us to eternal life in heaven.
So, how do we know we have faith and eternal life? John continues with words of confidence, “6This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (v. 6-8). So, John gives us three testimonies or witnesses. First there is the testimony of the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit gives testimony through the Word of God. As we hear and read the Word of God the Holy Spirit works through that very Word to give the gifts God has to give. As we hear and read the Word of God, as it tells us we have faith, forgiveness and life, we can know for certain that we have faith, forgiveness and life. God’s Word does what is says and gives the gifts it promises. More than any other word, we can and do hold firmly to God’s Word.
The next testimony of which John speaks is the testimony of the water. With this testimony of the water we actually have two testimonies. First there is the testimony of the water and blood at Jesus’ death. Remember, as the spear pierced Jesus’ side out came blood and water which was proof of Jesus’ death. Some would say that this blood and water was the sign of a broken heart and rightly so as we have broken Jesus’ heart through our lives of sin, yet His great love moved Him to give His life for ours.
The second testimony of the water is that of Holy Baptism wherein through the water and God’s name we are given faith, forgiveness and life. Through the waters of Holy Baptism God gives to us, He writes His name on us, He writes our names in the book of Life, He gives and does to us and we are given to and done to, all pointing to Jesus.
The last testimony is that of the blood. As with the testimony of the water so with the testimony of the blood, there are actually two testimonies. First, again there is the testimony of the water and blood at Jesus’ death reminding us of God’s great love for us. Also reminding us that Jesus did die, which was the price for sin. Jesus died to pay the price for our sins, all our sins, completely.
The second testimony of the blood is the testimony of Jesus’ Holy Supper wherein He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. Remember, throughout the Old Testament, as the sacrifice was offered the one offering would eat of the sacrifice, thus participating in the sacrifice. So, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, as He celebrated the Passover, He took bread and wine, blessed them and gave them to His disciples instructing them in the fact that they were eating His body and drinking His blood thus participating in His sacrifice. So even today as we come to the Lord’s Table we eat His body and drink His blood thus participating in His sacrifice so that His prefect life is our perfect life; His perfect death is our perfect death; His perfect resurrection is our perfect resurrection and His perfect life, eternal life is our perfect eternal life.
What does this mean? Again we are reminded that we get it right when we get right who is running the show. We get it right when we point, not to ourselves but to Jesus. Again this morning we are reminded that it all begins with God. God gives and we are given to. God gives faith, forgiveness and life and He gives these gifts through the means of grace, His Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution and the Lord’s Supper reminding us of how important it is to make regular and diligent use of His means of grace where in we are given more and more of His gifts.
God gives and then God stirs in us to love. It all begins with God. He loves us and He stirs in us to love others. Our love truly is not our own, but is merely a reflection of God’s love for us, thus as we and others are loved by God and as we love God and others we are simply reflecting God’s love so that others know our love and faith.
God gives; God stirs in us to love and God stirs obedience, even if it is imperfect. Indeed we cannot be perfectly obedient because that is not our nature, after all we are conceived and born in sin and every intention of our hearts is evil all the time. Our will has been so tainted by sin that our will is only to sin. Yet we are continually reminded of God’s great love for us a love that gives us forgiveness of sins which in turn stirs in us a desire to repent, to be given forgiveness and to continue, with God’s help to be obedient to God’s commands.
And as we were reminded, God’s commands are not burdensome because He gives the victory. God in Jesus has accomplished all that needs to be done for our salvation. Jesus was born in human flesh in order to do for us all that we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus lived a perfect life, obeying all God’s commands for us in our place. By faith in Jesus, faith which He gives to us, His perfect obedience is our perfect obedience.
And so we have God’s victory in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The price for sin, eternal spiritual death, which was set in the Garden of Eden, has been paid by Jesus’ blood on the cross. What we owe Jesus paid. What should have been ours, eternal spiritual death, Jesus took for us. What is Jesus’, eternal life in heaven is ours, by faith, the faith which He has given to us, thanks be to God.
Indeed, God’s Word is true and we have His testimony. Now we have all heard that a person cannot be convicted on the testimony of one person and so in our text John reminds us that we have the testimony of Jesus’ life not by one but by three, “the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” This morning we rejoice in the testimony of these three and we rejoice in the faith and gifts God gives to us.
So, today is the sixth Sunday of Easter. We are thirty-six days out from Easter. Thursday is our celebration of Ascension Day. Today is also Mother’s Day and the day we celebrate God’s gift of motherhood and also perhaps one of the first examples we might have of God’s unconditional love, that of a mother’s love for her children. In keeping with the context of our text then we would say we rejoice in a mother’s love being reminded that she loves as God first loves her just as we love in return as God first loves us. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.