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, January 22, 2017
A Great Light - January 22, 2017 - Third Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Isaiah 9:1-4
Have you come to a place in your spiritual life that you know for certain that if you were to die tonight that you would go to heaven? Suppose you were to die tonight and you were to stand before God and He would say to you, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?,’ what would you say? Using these two questions as tools, many people learned the art of Evangelism Explosion or the “Lutheran” version of Dialogue Evangelism. In an attempt to make the questions less threatening and easier to ask, Dialogue Evangelism II changed the questions. I would ask that you think about these new questions as I ask them. First question, do you consider yourself to be a Christian? Second question, how does a person become a Christian? I pray that each of you can answer those questions. In the next few minutes we will work to answer those questions in the context of our text for today.
Isaiah tells us in verse one, “there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the later time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Isaiah 9:1). This is a verse of great joy, especially to us Christians. Isaiah is here alluding to the grace of God which comes through Jesus Christ. It is by God’s grace that there will be no more gloom. It is by God’s grace that we are given forgiveness and with that forgiveness, the gift and promise of eternal life in heaven.
It is by God’s grace that each of us has a part in the promise of eternal life. It has nothing to do with how good we have been or how good we think we have been. We could never be good enough or do enough good to earn or to deserve any of God’s good gifts. That is why it is by His grace that we are given His good gifts. It is too bad that we have really confused grace and gift giving so much so that many people in our world today do not know what grace and gift giving really means. And we have talked about this before, at Christmas time we talk about gift giving, but the understanding is usually one of an exchanging of presents, that is, I give you a present and I expect you to give me a present, thus not truly a gift giving time, but a present exchanging time. Even when going to a birthday party, we bring a gift, but more often than not our expectation is to receive something in return, either a treat, a party favor, or something in return. None of this is grace or gift giving. The exciting thing is that God has not misunderstood grace and gift giving. He gives His good gifts knowing that there is no way we could ever repay, or exchange anything with Him. This is grace and true gift giving.
In verse two Isaiah tells us, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Darkness is the image of sin. We are the people who are walking in darkness. We are the people who are walking in sin. We are sinners. David said it best when he said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalms 51:5). In other words, we are each conceived and born in sin and our natural inclination is to sin.
Because we are born in sin, there is no way we are able to save ourselves. There is no amount of good works we can do to undo the sin we have done. In order to illustrate how much of a sinner we are I use this math equation, and many of you have heard me us this before; if we only sin three times a day, times 365 days in a year, that is over 1000 sins in a year. Multiply 1000 times how old we are and we get an idea of how much a sinner we are. Of course, I might rather suggest that the real number of our sins is more like ten times that, in other words, if we only sin 30 times a day, times 365 which is over 10,000 sins a year, times how old we are, and we get the message. We are sinners.
We compound that guilt when we realize that our God is a just God, that is He is a God who is faithful to His Word. He says He must punish sin, and He must. If we found an unjust judge in our court system, a judge who was letting offenders go because they simply promised not to do it again, in the same way that we would not trust that judge, so we would not trust an unjust God. Our God is a just God. He demands that we live perfect lives according to His laws and commandments. And He will not hold anyone guiltless who disobeys His commandments.
The good news is that while our God is a just God, He is also a gracious God. Our God is so gracious a God that we cannot comprehend all of His grace. If He were to show us all His grace at one time, if He were to pour out all His grace on us at once, it would overwhelm us, it would literally kill us. That is why He shows us His grace only a little at a time, only as much as we can handle at a time. Our God is a gracious God whose will it is that all people are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. And so we have a just God and a gracious God. He has promised to punish sin, but He is also gracious to us.
Our God is gracious to us because of the great light which has dawned. The great light is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. Jesus Christ was with the Father and the Holy Spirit at creation. He humbled Himself, St. Paul tells us, and took the form of a servant. He gave up the glory that was due Him as God and became a human being.
Thus Jesus Christ is true God and He is true man, born of the virgin Mary. As a man He lived under the law. He obeyed all God’s laws and commandments perfectly. He took all our sins upon Himself and suffered and died for our sins. Three days later He rose victorious over sin, death, and the devil.
His life, suffering, death and resurrection delivered us from the yoke that burdens, that is, sin, death, and the power of the devil. Isaiah describes these events in the last part of verse four, “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:4). We are indeed burdened by sin and its guilt. Jesus’ work on the cross, His suffering and dying, brought us forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness comes deliverance from death. With deliverance from sin and death we need no longer have any fear of the devil, because he has already been defeated.
These gracious blessings become ours simply by faith, but let us not misunderstand faith. Faith is the instrument which takes hold of these blessings of God. True saving faith is not merely a head knowledge about God. In other words, saving faith is not merely knowing there is a God. Even James tells us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder” (James 2:19). The devil knows that there is a God, but it does him no good. Just knowing there is a God is not saving faith.
Nor is saying that you know there is a God saving faith. I call this lip knowledge. Sometimes this is referred to as “paying lip service.” In his Gospel Matthew tells us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Saving faith is more than simply having your name on the books at a church. True saving faith is more than knowing there is a God, and more than just saying there is a God.
True saving faith is what I call heart knowledge. True saving faith is putting complete trust in Jesus work for salvation alone. It is taking what is in your head and being said with your lips, and confessing it and believing it with your heart. True saving faith is knowing and believing that there is nothing I can do to save myself and is complete dependence on Jesus for my salvation. True saving faith can be seen in one’s utter dependance on God so much so that nothing will stand in the way of one thinking, speaking and living as a Christian. And although, at times, we may fail to think, speak and live as a Christian, this means we will repent and struggle again.
Well, that is all fine and good, but the next question we ask is, what does this mean to me? What can I do? I consider myself to be a Christian. I am sure that if I died tonight I would go to heaven. I have this assurance because of my faith in Jesus Christ, faith which the Holy Spirit worked in me at my baptism. Faith which He renews daily through remembering my baptism and reading His Word. Faith which He strengthens through my reception of His body and blood at Holy Communion.
What can you do? We all can do is to pray. We can pray for the unchurched, the unchurched of the world and of the nation, but most specifically we can pray for the unchurched of Westfield, Spring and our surrounding area. We can pray that the Lord would work through us and through others in order that the unchurched may have the opportunity to hear His Word. Pray that upon hearing the Word that Word might take root in the heart of the unchurched, spring up and bear abundant fruit.
If you would like to do more than pray you can invite people to come to divine service. I believe that God’s Word, especially the book of Acts, gives us the best examples of how people are reached with the good news of the Gospel. It is as people were living their lives as Christians, living in their various vocations, as they were coming into contact with the rest of the world that they had opportunity to give an answer, to give a defense of the hope and faith they had. As they had opportunity, they shared with others and invited them to “come and see,” that is to come and hear the Word of God through which the Holy Spirit worked to give faith. The question we might ask ourselves is this, “What do others see and hear from us concerning our faith and our church?” If you were to invite a co-worker or friend to church would they decline because of our witness, or would they be excited and want to come and see because of our witness?
I believe the example of the Bible is the best example in how we are to reach others with the good news of the Gospel. First and foremost is the fact that we need to be filled with the message of salvation. If we are not filled, then we will never speak of what we do not have, thus, as I continually encourage, regular and diligent use of the means of grace is priority number one. Second, we will want to pray for those who do not yet have faith in Jesus. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move them through our witness to “come and see,” to come to divine service to hear the good news and be given faith. And of course, we will seek as many opportunities as possible to invite our unchurched family and friends to church and to church activities.
Most importantly we need to realize that we are all personal witnesses of our Lord and Savior. As personal witnesses it is our privilege to invite our friends, especially our unchurched friends and neighbors, family and co-workers to church. It is through our personal invitations that people come to hear the Word and to know Jesus Christ. People respond more to the loving concern and care of another person more than anything else because it is this loving concern and care that truly reflect what is in one’s heart. The Lord has done great things for us. With His help He can do great things through us.
It is really frustrating to me to try to motivate you without using a law motivation, without trying to motivate you by making you feel guilty. Sharing your faith is not something to feel guilty about, nor is being afraid to share your faith, nor is thinking that you are not sharing your faith. As we are reminded of God’s great love for us, that Jesus lived for us, that He died for our sins, that He rose so that we know that we might also rise, that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, how can we keep that great good news to ourselves. Indeed, we cannot help but share that great good news with others so they too might share heaven with us. So, let me encourage you and assure you, just by your being a Christian, just by your attending divine service and Bible class on Sunday, just by your being a part of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, you are already sharing your faith. You are already bearing witness of the faith that is in you. The exciting thing is that the Lord can and does continue to work through that simple witness to plant His seed, to water and nourish that seed and to bring forth abundant fruit, to His glory, when and where He pleases. We may never know whose life we might touch, but praise the Lord because He can and He does work His good and gracious will in and through us, to the praise and glory of His holy Name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.