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 22, 2016

Fulfillment - May 22, 2017 - Holy Trinity Sunday - Text: Acts 2:14a,22-36

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 words of God reminding us that Jesus is God who was with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world. In the Gospel reading we have the confession, the claim of Jesus the He is truly God as He says, “before Abraham was, I am.” His words of “I am” echo the words of God when speaking to Moses in the wilderness when Moses asked Him “who should I say sent me?” and God answered, “tell them ‘I Am’ has sent you.” 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 simply 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. Of course this goes along with our understanding that all of Holy Scripture is God’s Word spoken through the one He inspired and moved to write, thus again, all of Holy Scripture is speaking to us. Peter begins with Jesus, His life and death. Jesus was at the same time a human being, one hundred percent human, and He was God, one hundred percent 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, demonstrating that He was God according to their logic, because they believed 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 to live perfectly and so that He might fulfill all of the promises of God in Holy Scripture, perfectly.
And Peter gets personal. Today, 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. I believe I have shared this with you before, but I believe it bears repeating, a few years back while I was serving in another parish I remember talking to the daycare children one Wednesday morning during chapel. 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 the daycare children, 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. Peter was with Jesus throughout His three years of ministry and His death. He was one of the chosen twelve who were not only Jesus’ disciples, but His chosen and set apart apostles. 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 15, 2016

The Gift of the Holy Spirit - May 15, 2016 - The Day of Pentecost - Text: Acts 2:1-21

Not too long after the flood waters had subsided, Noah and his family, his three sons and their wives began populating the earth. By the time we get to the 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 historical 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 earth, as the Lord had commanded, they stayed in one place, 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 that point the people were scattered, as He told them to do in the first place, and from that point we have the initiation of the various culture and people groups which are present in our world today. The religion of evolution, as I call it, teaches that over millions of years human beings evolved from apes and then if you “google” the old evolutionary charts you will see the teaching is then to pygmies which evolved from apes, then came aborigines, then lighter and lighter skinned people. And that is how we get the term “races” and were racism developed. As we look at the Bible and understand that at the Tower of Babel, when God confused the languages of the people, as the various language groups spread throughout the world they took certain dominant DNA, genetic information with them, so that we have in the various language groups around the world, people of various cultures, yet all related to Noah and his family. Indeed, there is only one race of people, humans and many languages and cultures, which makes a whole lot more sense.
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. Now, did you catch that, Jews from the various language and culture groups from around the world came to celebrate, in other words there were those of the Jewish faith who were not necessarily of genetic Jewish descent around the world. 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 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” (v. 2). 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” (v. 3). 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” (v. 4). 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 doing. 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 the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scriptures, 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 not 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 Divine Service as often as it is offered. To be diligent in our 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 to refuse to eat at your daily meals. 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. Yes, believe it or not, He does give us everything we need to be His church, His congregation here in this place.
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 works 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 8, 2016

Come, Lord Jesus - May 8, 2016 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Text: Revelation 22:1-6[7-11]12-20

How does the old saying go, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” It seems like just day before yesterday we celebrated Christmas and yesterday we celebrated Easter. This past Thursday we celebrated an important holiday in the church and I can image that no one even knew it passed. Thursday was exactly forty days after Easter and on that day we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension back into heaven. Yes, Thursday was the ever popular Christian Celebration of Ascension.
Today is a day of celebration as well, not a Biblical holiday so to speak, rather a social holiday, yet one that is Christian in its moorings, at least the concept is or once was in our culture. Today is the day we honor our mother’s as we celebrate Mother’s Day and God’s gift of the highest vocation of a woman and that of being a Godly mother. Popular culture might cringe at that statement today, yet as Christians we know that motherhood is a gift and calling from God. So we say, happy Mother’s Day to all our moms here this morning. Thank you for bringing your children to church with you today.
During this Easter Season we have been looking at heaven and even today we get one more look into heaven. This is our last glimpse into heaven, at least for a while and at least as far as our texts go, because this is the last Sunday that we will have a reading from the book of Revelation for a while. Today is the last Sunday in the Easter season. Next week we celebrate Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit. The next week we will celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday, that our God is a triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then we will be in the season of Pentecost for twenty some odd weeks.
Our text begins with John continuing to give us a picture of heaven (v. 1-11). John’s words take us back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis. In the Garden of Eden we were introduced to two trees in particular, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. The difference here in John’s revelation is that there is not one tree of life, but there are trees of life which line the river of life. John’s vision and his words remind us of how wonderful heaven is and how our Lord provides for all our needs. The trees of life bear twelve kinds of fruit and they bear fruit twelve months out of the year. The leaves bring healing. So, this is spiritual food and spiritual healing.
John sees Jesus who is the light of the city, thus we are reminded as we were last week, that heaven has no need for any artificial light nor any temple or church, because Jesus is there with us. Jesus is God in flesh, He is the one we worship and because we are in heaven which is a place of complete perfection we will only need Jesus. And did you notice, that when John heard these things and fell down before the angels, he was reminded by the angels that we do not worship angels, but that we worship only our Lord.
Our text continues with Jesus testifying of Himself and His return (v. 12-13). Jesus says, “I am coming soon!” He is coming soon, sooner than we know, sooner than we expect. I say sooner than we expect because we tend to think of things from a human perspective. We know that God waited some three to four thousand years to fulfill His first promise to send a Savior. After Jesus came, suffered, and died and before He ascended into heaven He promised to come soon to take us to heaven. We have already waited about two thousand years. Will we have to wait another thousand or two thousand years? No one knows, only God the Father in heaven knows. Certainly there are many who do not believe Jesus will return during their lifetime, nor for another one or two thousand years. And we know this, not necessarily because they say so, but by the way they act, living life on earth giving no thought for Jesus’ return, today or tomorrow. What we are forgetting is that even if Jesus does not return during our lifetime, we will return to Him when we die and that could come at anytime, from the time of conception to the age of over a hundred. It will happen. We will see Jesus, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect.
Along with His promise to return, Jesus also says that He will give us our reward. Our reward will be meted out as follows. Those who die in unbelief will earn hell. Those who die in faith will be given heaven earned for us by Jesus. And those are the only two options, heaven or hell.
And we can count on this happening, because Jesus says it will happen, remember, God said it and that settles it. Jesus can do what He says because He is God. He is the Alpha and Omega, that is, He is the first and the last. He is God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He was with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world. He was one with the Father and the Holy Spirit as He lived on this earth. And He continues to be one with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit continues to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. He is always one God with the Father and the Spirit, undivided.
This morning we get a glimpse of those who are inside and those who are outside the kingdom of heaven (v.14-15) as well. Those who are inside the kingdom are those who have entered in because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, entrance into heaven is for believers, those who have been given faith by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. These are the ones who wear Jesus’ robes of righteousness.
Those who are outside, those who have no entrance are those who have rejected and continue to reject Jesus. Those who refuse to acknowledge Him as Lord and God. John’s list begins by saying that those outside the city are the dogs, that is, those who are sorcerers, that is those who do such despicable things as “practice magic arts,” read their horoscopes, visit fortune tellers and psychic friends hotline, and so on; also, those who practice deviant acts of sexual immorality, giving up natural relations for unnatural as Paul calls it, or homosexual sins, and so on; those who murder, not only those that commit the actual sin of killing, but those who murder by hurting, harming, or defaming another; those who are idolaters, and in our world today idolatry includes: people chasing after images and statues that change and move, people busying themselves with the things of this world today, so much so that we do not have time for God and the things of God; and finally, those who love and practice falsehoods. We are living in a post-modern, a post-Christian world which is exemplified by the fact that truth has become relative, or so it is thought. Truth is whatever you want it to be at the present time, thus we have become ever changing people depending on the facts that we want to present at that time, not that we would call them falsehoods, just different forms of the truth. Our text tells us that these are those who are outside the kingdom of heaven and instead inhabit the kingdom of hell.
Continuing on in our text, we get the testimony of the second witness, the angel (v. 16). What is interesting about this is that from Deuteronomy forward and even in the New Testament, something legal had to have two or three witnesses. Now we have Jesus’ second witness. God’s angel speaks to John. His testimony is in complete agreement with Jesus’ words. Jesus is the Son of David. Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus is royalty, truly King. Jesus is the Light of the World.
Finally we have the invitation (v. 17, 20). The invitation is from the Spirit and the Bride. We have the invitation to the marriage feast from God and His Holy Bride, the Church, all believers in Jesus. The invitation is to come and thirst no more. Heaven is a place where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forever. Heaven is a place of perfection where there will be no physical, bodily, or spiritual needs. Everything will be supplied.
Our invitation is to come and have perfect fellowship with Jesus. We will have no more worries or cares. We will not need to worry about our relationship with Jesus, because we will be in perfect communion and fellowship with Him.
Our RSVP, our response is to say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” In the Lord’s prayer we pray “Thy kingdom come,” this is another way of saying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” We want God’s kingdom to come. And in the Lord’s prayer we are praying for God’s Kingdom to come. We are praying for His Kingdom of grace, the church on earth, the church militant as we call it, that is that God would continue to work through us as individuals and as His local congregation to reach out into our community and the world to bring people to the means of grace so they too might be given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. We are also praying for His Kingdom of glory, heaven. We want God to take us from this vale of tears to be with Himself forever in eternity. We want to be in heaven. We know that heaven is a much better place and so we desire God to come quickly and so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” even, “come, quickly!”
Six weeks ago we celebrated Easter. We celebrated Jesus rising from the dead. Three days before Easter we celebrated Good Friday. We celebrated Jesus’ death on the cross. Maybe celebrate is not the best word, but we did celebrate. We celebrated that because Jesus died we are no longer sentenced to death. I would suggest that we do not celebrate the fact that Jesus died, but we do celebrate that He gave His life for ours. We are born in sin, spiritually blind, spiritually dead, enemies of God. When we are conceived we are conceived deserving death and hell. Yet, that is not what we will get, because Jesus gave His life for ours.
As we have been looking into heaven following the readings in the book of Revelation, we are reminded once again that we are not getting what we deserve, rather we are getting what Jesus deserves, what He earned for us by His giving His life for ours. We are reminded that heaven is a free gift.
We have been looking into heaven. We have seen Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father in all His glory. We have seen what a wonderful and joy filled place of perfection heaven is and now we eagerly await Jesus return. We eagerly await Jesus coming to take us to be with Himself forever in heaven.
You might say there are two ways of “encouraging” people to believe. One way is to show people what hell is like and scare them enough so that they do not want to go to hell. The other way is the approach that we have in the book of Revelation, that is, to show people what heaven is like and to encourage them to understand that this is where they want to go. So how do we get there? By God’s grace through faith. Heaven is a free gift. Heaven is not earned or deserved. To try to earn or deserve heaven takes it away as a gift and then it is lost. Heaven is a free gift, given to us by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. Faith is also a gift, given to us by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. Faith is also an instrument. Faith is the instrument which reaches out and takes hold of all the gifts God has to give, the gifts earned for us by Jesus death and resurrection. What part do we play? We are the one’s who are given to. God gives and we are given to. Now, as we see the wonders of heaven, we know that this is the place where we want to go and we want to go soon, so we pray, “come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Glory of the Lord - May 1, 2016 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Text: Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27

Last week we were reminded, once again, that we get it right when we point to Jesus. We heard that the best way to teach is to teach and reteach, that is to say that we need to hear the same thing over and over and over again until we master it. Indeed, the desire of the one’s who have been given faith is to be in Divine Service and Bible Class as often as they are offered, yes, every Sunday because we need to hear and rehear God’s Word so that we might take it to heart and we may even say, master it, at least as best we can this side of heaven. And last week we were reminded that if God says it, that settles it.
As God has called me here to be the Pastor of this congregation, so one thing I attempt to do, even if it is imperfectly, that is that I attempt to model what I preach. One way I do this is in my own prayer and worship life. Many of you know my usual routine. We are, after all, creatures of habit and my wife will attest that I am as well. My usual routine is to come to church early, have time in prayer, and during that time in prayer I remember each of you as I lift your name up in prayer and for any particular cares or concerns that you have. Following my prayer time I spend about a half hour reading God’s Word. I spend about fifteen minutes in the Old Testament and about fifteen minutes in the New Testament. And then I am ready to begin my day.
The reason I spend so much time encouraging you as brothers and sisters in Christ in your faith life, that is in teaching and reteaching about our need to be in Divine Service and Bible Class, about our need to read God’s Word, to have personal and family devotions is because these are the means we have of being in a relationship with Jesus. Relationships are the things we cherish. We like and even need to spend time with our spouse, our family and our friends. It is the time we spend with others, both quality and quantity time, that help our relationships to deepen and grow. The same is true with our best friend. If you have ever felt like your relationship with Jesus has become strained perhaps it is because you are not spending enough time with our best friend, our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Just as relationships can begin to fade when we do not keep in contact, so our faith and our relationship with Jesus will fade as we keep away from Him.
My faith in Jesus is a relationship even a friendship. I speak to Him in prayer. He speaks to me through His Word. If I do not pray to Him, He does not hear from me. If I do not read His Word, I do not hear from Him, thus our conversation is broken and our relationship can become strained. And just as our earthly relationships and friendships are so important, how much more so is our relationship and friendship with Jesus.
During this season of Easter we have been looking into heaven as we have been following John’s words in his vision in the book of Revelation. And so, this morning we come and we get another view of heaven. In his vision John sees (v. 10-14) God’s glory and he describes it as a “most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” John describes God’s glory as the finest, shiniest thing that he knows, a “most rare jewel.” He describes heaven’s fortress saying, it has “a great, high wall.” We may not understand what that means, completely, but a great high wall was great protection from the enemy, so John is describing heaven as being a place where a person could feel very secure. John goes on to remind us that heaven’s gates are entered through by faith in the teachings of the prophets of the twelve tribes of Israel; that heaven’s foundation is the word of the Apostles given to them by the Lamb, Jesus; and those included in heaven are those included by God’s grace through faith. In other words, heaven is ours, given as a free gift, earned by Jesus’ death on the cross, made ours by faith worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit working through the Word. Heaven is our real home. Heaven is where we will live forever with our best friend, Jesus.
In the last verses of our text John describes Jesus as the temple (v. 22-23). John tells us that there is no temple in heaven, because Jesus is the temple. And he says there is no sun in heaven, because Jesus is the Light. We would say He is the Son, S-O-N. Here we see Jesus in all His glory, the glory that He gave up to take on flesh and blood, the glory that He gave up to give His life on the cross for us. Jesus is in all His glory and we will see Him and live with Him in all His glory forever in heaven.
Over the past few weeks we have been getting various views of heaven. Perhaps as we are seeing heaven we might ask the question, “Are we ready for heaven?” I have suggested that we are ready and we know we are ready when we take our focus off this world and the things of this world and instead focus our attention on things heavenward. I have suggested that we know we are ready when we understand that our purpose for being here, as Christians and as a Christian congregation is to encourage and build each other up as the body of Christ, to extend God’s Kingdom here in this place by inviting our unchurched family and friends and the community to come and hear the Word and be given faith as well, and to give praise and glory to the name of the Lord, which we do as we do one and two.
This morning I want to ask a different question. The question I want to ask this morning is, “what is important in life?” We live on this earth, in this world for one, sixty, eighty, maybe one hundred years. Heaven is forever. So, what is important, our lives in this world, or our lives in the world to come? We would probably all agree that our lives in the world to come are most important, yet we live our lives as if this world is most important. We put more emphasis in our work, in accumulating the things of this world, in making friendships for the purpose of building our network than we do in building our relationship and preparing ourselves and others for heaven. We are more concerned about what people think about us in this world than we are about spending time with our best friend, Jesus. And we feel helpless in changing our lives because of these things and because our lives in this world are so important to us.
This morning we are privileged to get another glimpse of heaven. Heaven really is undescribable, yet, that is what John is trying to do. Heaven is beyond imagination, a place of complete joy. It is a place of complete happiness. It is a place of eternal life. And again, this is what John is attempting to describe for us. Certainly we would say that John is using a Gospel approach to encourage us to be about the business of having our eternal well being our priority, in other words, we want to make sure we go to heaven, not because we do not want the alternative, but because heaven is such a wonderful place.
When we talk about heaven in earthly terms we often hear people say that heaven is different for everyone. For you, this is heaven, for me something else is heaven. John’s words remind us that heaven is not something different for everyone, rather, heaven is our eternal home where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forever. Heaven is where we will be in complete union and relationship with Jesus Christ, the Lord. Heaven is a place of complete and perfect fellowship with the Jesus.
Most importantly, heaven is ours. It is ours right now. We may have to wait to move in, at least until after we have passed on from this world, but it is ours now. It is ours and it is ours as a free gift. No amount of money can buy heaven. No amount of doing good or being good can earn heaven. Heaven is not for sale. No amount of head knowledge, that is no amount of knowing the Bible will get us to heaven. Instead, maybe we could say, “we do not get to heaven by what we know, but by who we know,” or even better, “by who knows us.” Heaven is ours, it is a free gift, “not by works so that no one can boast.” Heaven is ours, purely by God’s “goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness within us.” Heaven is ours because Jesus gives it to us. Heaven is ours because Jesus paid the price for our sins so that we might have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness we know is life and salvation. Yes, heaven is ours because Jesus gave His life for ours.
As we just said, unfortunately, our priorities tend to get messed up. We tend to focus on this world and the things of this world. We tend to focus on our lives in this world as if this is all we have and all we might have to hope for. And so we spend our time fretting, struggling, even fighting to get what we can in this world, failing to realize that this is all temporary. Remember, what we are born with and what we take with us when we die, is what is really ours. Nothing is really ours. Yes, we focus on this world and yet, Jesus focuses on us. His whole life was lived for us. He gave up all the glory that was rightfully His in heaven, for us. He was born for us. He lived for us, perfectly. He obeyed all God’s laws and fulfilled all God’s promises, all His prophecies for us, completely and perfectly. He took our sins upon Himself, even our sins of our mixed up priorities and He suffered and paid the price for our sins. He died, for us, in our place. But, of course, we know the rest of the story. He did not stay dead, but rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil. And after ascending into heaven, rightfully sitting at the right hand of the Father, where He watches over us, rules over us and intercedes for us, He sent the Holy Spirit to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. And now we see Him in all His glory as John relates His vision to us. What an awesome God we have. How can we not want to live our lives to His glory?
This morning I say thank you, for being here. Thank you for coming to spend time building your relationship with our best friend, Jesus. I want to encourage you to keep working on your relationship with the Lord, making regular and diligent use of His means of grace, the means He uses to come to us and to give us the gifts He has to give. As we well know, we live in a world where too often it happens that friendships break and dissolve, because of misunderstandings, because of mis-communication, because of lack of putting time into the friendship. Likewise with our relationship with our best and greatest friend, Jesus. Jesus wants to hear from us. His desire is for us to pray to Him. Jesus wants to speak to us. His desire is for us to read His Word. He wants to be a part of our lives and to be close to us. I think there was a phrase a while back that went something like this, “if you feel like you are not close to God it is because someone moved, and it wasn’t God.” I want to encourage you to pray and to read God’s Word. As you do, the Lord will draw you closer to Himself and you will have a friendship and a relationship that will last forever. You will have a relationship and a friendship that will look like John’s vision. And that is a great thing. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.