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, November 29, 2015
Happy New Year, or Happy New Church Year. Today is the first day, the first Sunday in our new Church year. Before we get into our text for this morning, and just as a reminder, because I know I have talked about this before but it is always good to review, I want to explain a little about how we get our Bible readings and how I choose my sermon text. The readings we have for each Sunday are a part of a three year cycle of Bible readings. I should also tell you there is a one year series that was used by many congregations for years and some still use the one year series today. These series of readings are not new but have been around for many years and many of the “traditional, liturgical” churches use these same readings perhaps with some variation. These readings come from what we call a Lectionary which is a set of readings. We use the three year series here. This three year cycle of readings is often referred to as Series A, Series B, and Series C. This year we are in Series C. The readings that we have were selected so that over a period of three years the main readings of what the Bible teaches are read. Each Sunday we have a reading from the Old Testament, from one of the Epistles, and from one of the Gospels. In Series A we mostly hear Gospel readings from Matthew, in Series B, from the Gospel of Mark and in Series C from the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John is interspersed during the three years. This three year cycle also means that every three years we hear the same readings from the Bible, which means that as we grow older and mature in our faith we can get more out of each reading. There is also an attempt to have readings that compliment each other, although you may have noticed this is not the case for every Sunday. As for as how I pick the text that I use from which to preach, I began years ago with Series A preaching from the Old Testament readings. In the ensuing years I have preached three years from the Old Testament, three from the Epistle readings and three from the Gospel readings and then started over. This year, in Series C I will continue with the Epistle lessons which I used last year in Series B and the year before in Series A. This means that, for the most part, I will be preaching from the Epistle lessons. I pray that as we concentrate on the Epistle lessons for this year that they will be a blessing to us all.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Maybe you remember, the word “advent” means coming. Advent is the time, not to celebrate Christmas, but to get ready for the celebration. I will say it now and I will say it again later, if you want a grand celebration you have to take time to prepare. You do not just say, “let’s have a party!” unless you have planned the party, otherwise it might not go as you would like. Likewise, in order to have a grand Christmas celebration we need to begin by getting ourselves ready and Advent is the time to do just that, to get ready.
How do we get ourselves ready? We get ourselves ready by making use of the means that God has of getting us ready, His Word and His Sacraments and notice then that I have moved my language in who is doing what in answer to that question. We do not actually get ourselves ready, but God gets us ready through His means of grace. This morning God gets us ready as we look at Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. In his letter, Paul writes of his joy as he is pleasantly surprised at the faith of the Thessaloinians, at least as he has heard about their faith. The reason for Paul’s surprise is that he had only a short time to spend with them when he first visited Thessalonica. All he had time to do was to share what he could of the good news of salvation, the Gospel of Jesus, indeed the Word of God. Notice here that the Word of God is the means through which the Holy Spirit worked in the Thessalonians to give them and strengthen them in their faith, quite a statement and example to us today. If we would desire that it be said about us, what great faith we are seen to have through the way we love one another then our desire will be that of being in the Word.
The news that Paul heard about the Thessalonians was great news. The news he heard was that they continued to study God’s Word and continued to grow in their faith. Paul could hardly contain his joy as his words of praise ring out to the Holy Spirit for His work. Paul knew that it was not what he had done, but what the Holy Spirit had done, through the Word, that worked faith and strengthening of faith in them. Likewise, as your pastor, understanding that it is my calling to preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, forgive and retain sins and visit the sick and the shut-in, understanding that I cannot give you faith, nor coerce you in any spiritual matter, I rejoice as the Holy Spirit works through the Word you hear so that you are given faith and strengthened in that faith. I rejoice when your faith is seen in action, in loving one another.
Paul’s desire, however, was to return to continue to work with them. Paul knew that they were not completely mature in their faith and so he hoped to return to them to continue to share the good news of salvation to them. Again, as your pastor, my desire is that you may increase in your faith, that you may abound in love for one another, which is manifest in you by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.
Paul’s excitement breaks out into prayer. Paul’s prayer is to God the Father, through our intercessor, God the Son. Paul’s prayer is for an increase of faith, shown through an increase in their love for one another. In other words, Paul prays for an increase in faith for the Thessalonians and in order to see that increase in faith he prays for an increase in their show of love. Paul’s prayer is for an increase in their show of love because love is a fruit of the spirit that shows that faith is in the heart. Here again, my prayer is the same for you. My prayer is that the Lord will work an increase in faith in each one of you. My prayer is that this increase in faith will be shown by you so that others, especially our guests and the people in our neighboring community can see that we have faith because of the love that we have for each other and for them.
Paul’s prayer is for their preparation for Jesus’ second coming. Certainly, my prayer is for your preparation for Jesus’ second coming as well, but especially during this season of Advent I pray for your preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, His birth in Bethlehem. Here, as I mentioned last Sunday, indeed at the end of one church year and the beginning of another our text do sound somewhat similar as we are hearing God’s Word concerning Jesus’ coming. At the end of the church year it is words of Jesus second coming on the day of judgement and the importance of being ready to be judged. And here at the beginning of the church year we hear texts concerning Jesus first coming, being born as a baby in Bethlehem and our being prepared for that celebration.
Paul knows that Jesus is coming again, because Jesus had already come and promised to come again. Likewise, we know that Jesus is coming again. We have God’s Word which tells us of God promise of Jesus first coming, and the fulfillment of that promise at His birth in Bethlehem. So, we know that Jesus is coming again because that is what He said, what He promised before His ascension into heaven. We know that as He kept His first promise He will indeed keep His second promise. Again, yes, we look forward to Jesus’ second coming, but at this time we prepare ourselves to celebrate His first coming.
This week we begin our getting ready for the birth of the King. In the Gospel lesson Jesus reminds us that there will be signs. He is speaking mostly of signs of the end times, but today, in our world today, we can see signs of getting ready for Christmas. Of course, our getting ready is a little different from the signs we see of how others in our society get ready. For example, did you notice that the signs of Christmas were already up in the stores in October? Yes, stores were beginning to get ready by putting up Christmas merchandise in October this year. Another sign of Christmas is that our society declares Christmas a success or failure according to how well they sell. Fortunately we do not use the same measure, however, we do still need to prepare ourselves for our Christmas celebration.
We do not plan to fail, but we do fail to plan. I said it earlier, if you want to have a great celebration you must have great planning. Christmas, getting ready for Christmas takes planning. Advent is that time for planning. So how do we plan, how do we prepare ourselves? We prepare ourselves by reviewing the Old Testament promises of the coming of the Messiah, by reading such Old Testament passages as we read this morning. We prepare ourselves by remembering the reason for the Old Testament promises, that is, that God promised a Messiah because of sin in the world. We prepare ourselves by thinking about our contribution to Jesus’ suffering and death, that is that it is because of me and my sin that Jesus had to suffer and die. We prepare ourselves by remembering that the baby, whose birth we celebrate, was born to die, for you and for me.
We prepare ourselves or better said, we come to be prepared by our Lord through our use of His means of grace. Every year during the Advent season we rejoice in the many extra opportunities we have to get prepared, to make use of the means of grace, indeed to be given the gifts of God. If you have not yet looked at the brochure for the opportunities to be given the gifts of God, please do so. Every Wednesday evening during Advent we have an opportunity to prepare. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we have an opportunity to celebrate. Let me encourage you again, do not be negligent and refuse the gifts of God by letting these opportunities slip past but make the most of these opportunities so that God might work through His Word and Sacraments to get you ready even to strengthen you in your faith so that we might rejoice and so that what Paul said of the Thessaloinians might be said of us, how great is their faith which is seen in their love for one another.
Last week we were encourage to make sure we are ready to meet the Lord. We were reminded once again that our time in this world is fast and fleeting and that we will meet our Lord, either at our own passing or at His return on Judgement Day and we were reminded that day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. This week we might ask the question, “Are you ready to celebrate the birth of God in human flesh?” In getting ready to meet the Lord we were reminded of the importance of making time for our relationship with the Lord. In getting ready for our celebration of the birth of God in human flesh, again, it is important that we make time for our relationship with the Lord which is a part of good planning.
As we begin a new Church year, as we focus our attention on getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth we are encouraged. While the world continues to suffering in the pains of getting ready for Jesus’ return, as we hear of wars and rumors of war, famine, earthquakes and the like, we have God’s Word and ample opportunities to hear His Word, that Word through which the Holy Spirit works to give us the gifts of God. God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God does for us and we are done to. Indeed, as God, through His Word has His way with us, our desire is to be where the gifts of God are given out and to rejoice in His good gifts and blessings. Thanks be to God.
Let me conclude this morning by saying that Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is my prayer for you and it is a fitting prayer as we begin a new Church Year and as we begin preparing ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ, the new born king. “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
I Will Sing to the Lord - November 26, 2015 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: Ps. 104:24, 27-28, 30, anti. 33
Although Thanksgiving Day is not really a religious holiday nor a church holiday, it would seem fitting that we as Christians would want to celebrate and give thanks to our great God who is so gracious to us and who provides for all our needs to be met. After all the talk over the past few months about how bad things are here in the United States, it might be fitting for us as we celebrate a national day of Thanksgiving to look at how blessed we truly are. For our purposes, the online government website defines the poverty level as just under $12,000 for a single person and just under $16,000 for a family. In a recent article in the Summit Journal, the following was written: “In 1971, only about 32 percent of all Americans enjoyed air conditioning in their homes. By 2001, 76 percent of poor people had air conditioning. In 1971, only 43 percent of Americans owned a color television; 97 percent of poor people owned at least one in 2001. In 1971, microwave ovens were in 1 percent of American homes; 73 percent of poor people had one in 2001. Forty-six percent of poor households own their homes. Only about 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. The average poor American has more living space than the average nonpoor individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other European cities.” I find it amazing that so many people, myself included, can complain even though we have it so well, especially compared to so many people who have little or nothing around the world. So much for being content with food and clothing.
In our text for today, the Introit, the Psalmist proclaims the creating power of God, “24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24). Contrary to what is being taught and believed by some, the world did not simply come into existence out of nothing by itself. Even looking at the facts of science, nothing like this has ever been observed as happening, something coming into existence by itself. The Psalmist solves our dilemma of how the world came into being by telling us that the Lord made the world.
The world did not evolve. The world did not come into existence by itself, rather God was the prime mover. God was there at creation and He tells us how it happened. God called all things into being. God said and it was so. God created all things out of nothing. And God created human beings out of the dust of the ground, breathing into his nostrils the breath of life and we became living beings.
We know we are special because we were planned and created. We are special because we are known by our Creator God. We are responsible and accountable because there is an ultimate Authority, our Creator. But, not only did our God create us, He still takes care of us.
Continuing on in our text, the Psalmist proclaims the preserving and sustaining power of God, “27These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. 28When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 30When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (v. 27-28, 30). God did not create, wind up and leave. Some have suggested that God is like a clock maker who makes clocks, winds them up, sells them and has nothing more to do with them. God is not like that, rather He is a God who continues to sustain and preserve us, giving us all that we need to support our body and life.
Notice God gives all that we need, not necessarily all that we want, although I would suggest that for many of us in this country we do have all that we need and more, even much of what we simply may want. Think about all we have. Do we really need ten pairs of shoes? Do we really need ten pairs of pants, ten shirts, and so forth? Do we really need a telephone or for everyone in the family to have a telephone? Would we die without a car? Could we not walk or take public transportation? There are people in other parts of the world who do not have all things necessities of life as we call them and they live day to day. If we are honest with ourselves we must admit we do have it pretty good.
But even more than these “necessities” of life as we call them, these physical blessings is the fact that God gives us according to our greatest need. God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. We have talked about this before, the greatest need we have is forgiveness of sins because without forgiveness we would be left in our sins and we would be eternally condemned. But with forgiveness there is life and salvation.
Finally, in our text the antiphon focus us on our song of praise, “33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being” (v. 33). The antiphon is the verse that comes before and after the psalm and frames the psalm, the introit if you will. The antiphon is our response of faith which is to praise the Lord for all His good gifts and blessings. Certainly this does not come natural for us, a response of thanks, because of our nature, our sinful nature, that we are conceived and born in sin and every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, our response is more often than not a desire for more. Yet, our Lord who gives all, also works in us a response of thanks and praise.
Truly, our response of faith is to live as priests. Remember, God’s first call is to faith. God’s second call is to vocation and according to the vocation God calls us to, we are to live our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, that is what a priest does, offers sacrifice and that is what we do as members of the priesthood of all believers, we offer our lives as living sacrifices.
What does this mean? First and foremost, we get our theology right when we get our words right, when we get it right as to who is doing what, or as you have heard me say, when we know who is running the verbs. God is the prime mover. God does and God gives. To get a really good understanding of how much God does and gives, you simply need to take out your catechism and look up the Apostles’ creed and look at the explanations to each article. It is amazing how well Luther lays out all the good gifts and blessings the Lord gives for which we are to be thankful.
First and foremost, God is the prime mover. He gives first and we are given too. As we look at the articles of the creed you will notice that God gives life, forgiveness and faith. As Christians we know that God has given each of us life at conception and He has given us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. Certainly we know that we are loved by God. And again, we are done to and given to.
Not only does God give to us, but because of our inability even to respond, that is even our sanctification has its roots in God’s doing. It is God who moves in us our response of faith, our praise. You probably learned in confirmation that when it comes to justification God does it all, but when it comes to sanctification, we are doing some of the doing. The fact is, God is the prime mover in sanctification as well. And here we get back to the fact that we know we get our theology right when we have God running the verbs, when we have God as the prime mover, when God is the one doing the doing.
This evening, on the eve of our national celebration of Thanksgiving how fitting it is that we, as Christians, first come to give thanks to the Lord for all His benefits to us. How fitting that we take the time to take stock, if you will, of our own lives and all the many good gifts and blessings our Lord has seen fit to give to us. Certainly we rejoice and praise the Lord for His gift of life, given to us at conception, for His gift of faith, given to us at our Baptism, for His gifts of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We also give thanks for all physical good gifts and blessings He gives to us, food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, fields and cattle, wife and children, and the list goes on and on. Yes, our Lord is a great gift giving God and He delights in giving to us. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Looking Forward in Faith - November 22, 2015 - Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: Jude 20-25
Today is the last Sunday of this current Church year. And again, as the last two Sundays, our readings remind us that this world is temporary, that this world is fast and fleeting, that this world will soon come to an end. Some people have even described life as being like a calendar, it is January when we are born, June and July are the mid point of our lives and as we grow older and near our own passing and death we reach the December of our lives. As I have said before and many times, we will meet our Lord. We will meet Him either when He returns as He has promised, or when we die. We will meet our Lord and that day will come, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect, thus it is important, it is imperative that we are ready. And I do not mean being ready like the man holding the sign that said, “Look busy, the Lord is coming.” “Looking busy” is not being ready.
In our text for this morning the writer, Jude encourages us to be built up. We begin at verse twenty, “20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (v. 20-21). Notice first and foremost that Jude does not tell us that we are to do something to build ourselves up, except to look outside ourselves. We are to look to God to be built up. We are to be built up through our conversation with God, that is through our reading the Word, which is how our Lord speaks to us and through our prayer to our Lord which is how we speak to Him, thus through our reading the Word and prayer we are built up in this conversation with our Lord.
Here again we see the importance of the means of grace, especially the Word of God. It is through His Word that our Lord speaks to us and gives us the gifts He has to give. When we absent ourselves from the Word of God, we remove ourselves from the very means He has of building us up, of giving us the gifts He has to give and this is indeed gift refusal.
At the same time we see the importance of being diligent in prayer. And I would add, from other points of the Word of God, that in our prayer we might include a time of quiet and letting the Lord speak. Jude suggests that we “wait for the mercy of our Lord.” Certainly in our fast paced, immediate gratification society this is a most difficult task, but with God’s help it can be done. So, Jude begins by reminding us of our need to be built up.
After we are built up, Jude then encourages us to build others up. We pick up at verse twenty-two, “22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v. 22-23). How do we go about building others up? We build others up through encouraging each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. This may not sound like too difficult of a task, yet, because of our nature we constantly live in competition with each other. The devil tempts us to divide and conquer each other. We think, it’s my way and every other way is wrong. Our difficulty is that instead of encouraging those who have doubts, those who are being snatched into the fire of hell, we empathize with them and only help strengthening their doubts and being snatched into the fire of hell. We become co-dependent with them. Instead of standing up for what is right we go along with what we know is not right because of our fear. Indeed, how often we fail to “hate even the garment stained by the flesh.”
Jude reminds us that we are to hate sin and we are to correct those who live life in sin, especially we are to share the good news of Jesus with those who are living life in sin apart from Jesus and faith in Him. And this too is no easy task because we are people who do not want to think about the fact that living life outside of faith in Jesus will condemn us. We do not like confrontation. We like the status quo. And so as Jude reminds us, we are to live life sharing the good news of Jesus when and where He gives us opportunity so that some might hear, believe and be saved. And this is certainly encouraging each other and building others up.
As we are built up and as we build others up, our goal is not for some self gratification, but is to, as Jude reminds us, give God the glory. We pick up at verse twenty-four, “24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (v. 24-25). We do not build ourselves up. We do not, in and of ourselves, of our own free will work to build others up. The building up of ourselves and others is completely against our nature. Thus, we are built up and we build others up only as the Lord works these good works in and through us.
It all starts with Jesus. Jesus gives faith. Through His means of grace He gives faith. Jesus gives forgiveness. Again, through His means of grace He gives forgiveness. And Jesus gives life. Through His means of grace He gives life. Jesus is the prime mover. Jesus is the one who paid the price for sin and forgiveness for us. He is the one who gives the gifts He has to give. And so rightly He should be given all the glory.
Jesus gives faith, forgiveness and life. And He helps us to fight against temptation and sin. Jesus has already suffered all that we will suffer and even more. What we justly suffer, Jesus unjustly suffered. He who was without sin became sin for us so that He might be our substitute. He is always with us to help us in our fight against temptation and sin.
And Jesus gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. The gifts our Lord gives are not gifts we get or take for ourselves. If they were something we could get or take for ourselves, then they would not be gift. Our Lord gives the gifts He has to give and He gives them to us through the means He has to give them, His means of grace. Thus, He gives gifts to build us up, working in us to build each other up and all this is done to His glory.
So, what does this mean? Today is the last day of the church year, which, as we have been saying means that we look forward to God fulfilling His promise to return. Interestingly enough, did you know that when we prayer, “Thy Kingdom come,” in the Lord’s prayer we are indeed praying that God would hasten the coming of the last day. So, today is the last Sunday of the Church year and so we speak of the last days, the end of this world, the day of Judgement, Jesus’ second coming. Next Sunday we will begin a new Church year and we will again be hearing similar readings, but the difference will be in that next week, and all during the weeks of Advent, the focus will be on Jesus’ first coming. As we approach the end of this Church year, as we have seen Jesus fulfill His promise to come in His first coming, we know and we can be certain that He will fulfill His promise in His second coming.
As we look forward to Jesus’ second coming we concern ourselves with making sure we are ready, and that we are ready at any time and at all times. There is a comedian who jokes about the fact that he knows when he is going to die, because his birth certificate has an expiration date on it. Unfortunately, or perhaps rather fortunately, none of us knows when we are going to die. None of us has an expiration date on our birth certificate, and none of us knows when Jesus will return. Jesus says that even He does not know, but only the Father knows. As an aside, in good Lutheran fashion we explain this, the fact that the Father knows and Jesus does not know and that Jesus and the Father are one, by understanding that Jesus, as God the Son, wills Himself not to know what God the Father knows. So, if anyone ever tells you when the world will end, do not believe them, because no one knows but God the Father. However, the point is this, that we do not know and so we need to be ready at any time and at all times and we get ourselves ready by making use of the means of grace, by Jesus getting us ready and building us up.
As we look forward to Jesus’ second coming we concern ourselves with working to help make others ready. Now, understand that this is not something we do by ourselves. We do not give anyone faith or the other gifts God has to give, but we do work to get others ready through sharing the good news of Jesus with them. We build others up by living lives of faith as examples of Christ, by sharing God’s Word with them, by inviting them and encouraging them to be in worship and Bible class and the like. It is God who works through means even through the means we use to give the gifts He has to give and to get others ready as well.
As we look forward to Jesus’ second coming we look forward to heaven. The hymn writer got it right and many like the hymn, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” And this is probably one of the most difficult things for us, even and especially as Christians. So often we invest so much of ourselves, our time and energy in this world, forgetting that we are but strangers here. Yet, this is where our Lord works so well to build us up, to give us the gifts He has to give, to get our attention away from this world and to get us ready, even to get us looking forward to heaven.
Finally, we give glory to the Lord. We give glory where glory is due. We do not get credit for our salvation as if our salvation is something we have gained or earned for ourselves. We give glory to God because He is the one who gives the gifts, He is the one who has given us faith. He is the one who has earned and given us forgiveness. He is the one who strengthens and keeps us in faith. He is the one who builds us up. He is the one who works through us to build up others. He is the one who deserves and gets all the glory.
And so, I end this church year with Jude’s words and with John’s word, “20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” And, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Amen.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Once For All, Nothing More Need Be Done - November 8, 2015 - Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: Hebrews 9:24-28
Our text for this morning answers so many questions and corrects so much misunderstanding and confusion of Law and Gospel. Most certainly our text points us to Jesus and as you have heard me say time and again, we know we get it right when we point to Jesus. This morning we clear the air with the facts of Christ’s first coming, to usher in the end times by living, suffering, dying and rising. We clear the air with the fact that Jesus’ suffering and dying was enough to pay the price for all sins, for all people, for all ages, once and for all. And we clear the air with the fact that when Jesus returns it will not be to rule on earth, but to save those who believe in Him by taking us to heaven to be with Him. So, let us get to our text.
Our text begins by distinguishing between the Holy Place and its copy, verse twenty-four, “24For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (v. 24). The holy place made with hands is a reference to the temple built in Jerusalem. This temple was built as God’s presence among His people in Israel. This temple was not built as if God could be contained in any one particular place, but was built as a reminder to God’s people of His presence among them. As we read of all the warts of God’s people in Israel, so too we read of their rejection of God and His covenant and how that very temple, which was only a copy of the true Temple in heaven, was destroyed. We also read of God removing His presence from His people. And we read how this man made temple was built not as a permanent temple, but as one pointing to the greater temple, the one true Temple for all God’s people, all believers, the Temple in heaven.
And so, Christ’s appearance in heaven itself was to offer Himself, the sacrifice of Himself, the shedding of His blood for us on the cross and to present His sacrifice, once for all before the throne of God the Father in Heaven on our behalf. His appearance and offering of Himself, His life for our life is what brings us forgiveness and life, even eternal life.
Which brings us to get a better understanding of the repeated sacrifices. Picking up at verse twenty-five, “25Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (v. 25-26). Very often we get confused when we hear such statements that say that Jesus fulfilled the law so we are no longer under the law. That statement is only partially true for you see there are three laws going on. There is the civil law, which is the law of the land and while Jesus did fully obey all the civil law He did not do away with the civil law and we know this is true because we are still today under the civil laws of our country. Next there is the moral law and that is the Ten Commandments and here again, while Jesus did fully obey all the commandments He has not taken them away so that today we are still to follow and obey the Ten Commandments.
Finally, there is the ceremonial law and the sacrifices. All the ceremonial laws were given to point to the promised Savior, the Messiah, indeed Jesus. The price for sin that was set in the Garden of Eden was death, physical death, and apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus, eternal spiritual death. The price for sin was that blood had to be shed. Thus, for the children of Israel, the ceremonial law of the sacrificial system was set up so that animals were sacrificed, their blood was shed, not that the shedding of the blood of an animal accomplished or paid any price for the sin of the one offering the sacrifice, but reminding them of their sin, the price for their sin and pointing them to the one who would ultimately pay the price with His life. And as the one offered the sacrifice, depending on the sacrifice, they would often participate in that sacrifice by eating a portion of the sacrifice. The problem with these sacrifices, since they did nothing to earn or pay for sins is that they had to be repeated over and over again as a constant reminder of sin and its cost, death and the shedding of blood.
Because these sacrifices had to be repeated and were intended to point to Jesus, when Jesus came, He came to offer His own blood. All the sacrifices that were offered were to be ones without spot or blemish. Jesus was born as true God in human flesh, thus He was born without sin, without spot or blemish. Jesus was truly human so He could be our substitute, so He could do for us what we are unable to do, namely live a perfect life. Jesus fulfilled what was pointed to, that is He fulfilled all the law; civil, moral, and ceremonial, and all the prophets, perfectly.
Jesus then took our sins, all our sins and the sins of all people from Genesis to Revelation upon Himself. He suffered the punishment of our sins, eternal spiritual death. He shed His own blood on the cross. The difference between Jesus sacrifice of Himself and all the sacrifices that pointed to Him is that His blood need only be shed once, for all. Thus no longer are any sacrifices needed.
Which brings us to the appointment of death, verse twenty-seven, “27And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (v. 27-28). In the beginning God created a perfect world. He created a perfect man and a perfect woman and placed them into His perfect world. Then we get to Genesis Three, wherein we move from God’s creation and work, God’s acting and doing to the actions and doings of the man and his wife and at that point we see how they brought sin and death, physical death, and eternal spiritual death into the world through their disobedience and sin.
God brought down His judgement of death and cursed the world. And yet, at the same time He promised to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve. He promised to send a Savior for all people of all places of all times. He promised Jesus and His promise was that all who believe in Jesus will be saved, but those who do not will be condemned. Indeed, this was the very beginning of the Christian Church. So that, as we are now reminded, those who fail to believe in Jesus, that is the unbelievers are judged to eternal spiritual death. And those who do believe in Jesus, we Christians, the believers are judged to eternal life in heaven. There is no in between. There is no working off sin in order to get to heaven. There is simply to die once and then the judgement.
So, we are reminded that Jesus appeared once, at His birth. This first appearance was to usher in the end times. Indeed, we are living in the last days and have been living in the last days since Jesus’ birth. We are not waiting for any arrival of Jesus to rule in any way here on this earth. We are waiting for Jesus return and His return, His second appearance will be on the last day and it will be to judge the world.
What does this mean? This morning we are reminded once again, as we should be reminded and need to be reminded each and every Sunday that we are sinners and that it is our sin that brings death, indeed it is our sin that brought the death of Jesus. Yes, we are responsible for Jesus’ suffering and death. Last week I shared one of my frustrations as a pastor and that was the refusal and rejection of God’s gifts by so many each and every Sunday. This morning let me share a second frustration and that is that I believe there is this mass refusal and rejection because we do not take God and His Word seriously. We have either been convinced, as the Pharisees, that we are pretty good people and that our goodness would never allow God to condemn us, or we have been convince by our society that good is good enough. Or perhaps we simply do not believe we are in any danger of the Lord’s eminent return or our quick passing. The Law is still and remains the Law. We are lost and condemned persons. We are guilty and we stand condemned. Indeed, we need Jesus, not just now and again, but we need Him and His gifts each and every week, yes, each and every day.
Thanks be to God for His promised Savior. Thanks be to God that back in Genesis, when there was only Adam and Eve, neither Jew nor Greek, that God promised a Savior so that His promise was a promise of a Savior to all people, to all the children of Adam and Eve, and yet, even more specific, to all who believe.
The whole Old Testament pointed to the Savior. All the genealogies, all the prophecies, all the ceremonial laws, all the sacrifices, all the wars, chastening and discipline, all the narratives and history of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. Indeed, all of history points to Jesus.
Jesus is truly God. He was God in heaven enjoying all the glory that was His, using His divine attributes to their fullest, and yet He gave up His glory in order to take on human flesh and blood. Jesus had to be truly God in order to be born in perfection and He was. In His perfection He took on in human flesh and blood, being born of a human woman, the virgin Mary. Jesus had to be truly human in order to be our substitute, in order to trade His life, His suffering, His death and His resurrection for us.
Jesus lived for us, perfectly as is God’s demand. Jesus was the perfect, spotless lamb of God who took our sins, all our sins, our sins of omission, not doing what we should, our sins of commission, doing what we should not, our sins of thought, word and deed, not only our sins, but the sins of all people of all places of all times. He took all sin upon Himself and suffered and died once for all. Nothing more needs to be done. And as we know the rest of history, death and the grave had no power over Him for He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. And now He gives to us what He earned and paid for, He gives us His life, even eternal life.
Indeed, as the one who offered the sacrifice and participated in that sacrifice by eating of the sacrifice so our Lord offers to us to participate in His life, death and resurrection by offering us His body to eat and His blood do drink in His Holy Supper so that His life, suffering, death and resurrection are our life, suffering death and resurrection. Indeed, then we are to die once and then we are judged with no waiting in any holding area while payment is made for us to get to heaven.
This morning as we hear God’s Word we have confidence in our eternal salvation. Just as the Old Testament pointed to Jesus and it was faith in the coming Christ that made them Christians and saved them, so too in the New Testament. The New Testament points us back to Jesus so that it is faith in Jesus as the Christ which makes us Christians and saves us.
And now we wait. We wait not in fear and trembling, not in fearful anxiety, but we wait in eager anticipation. Indeed, the victory is ours, won for us by Christ on the cross. And so we wait in eager anticipation for our Lord’s return, which is why we eagerly desire to be given the gifts that God has to give and to be given those gifts each and every week, indeed each and every day. What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. We rejoice and give thanks and praise as we eagerly await His return. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. Now I know that All Saint’s Day is not that big a deal, not that big of a celebration for us in the Lutheran Church, but perhaps we should rethink this matter and make a bigger deal of this day, after all, our hope and future are not a hope and future for this world, but for the world to come. Our hope and confidence is that one day we will be saints in heaven and that one day may be sooner than we know and even sooner than we might expect.
And let me briefly remind you, in case you have forgotten, that by faith in Jesus, especially by faith given through His means of grace, either through His Word or at our own baptism, we are saints. Yes, while we are on this earth we will continue to be sinners as well, but we are saints and we will speak more on this again a little later.
In our first lesson appointed for reading on All Saint’s Day, we have John’s vision of our salvation. John describes what we call the number of completion, that is, all believers. John speaks of the 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel times the number of completion 1000. His lists of 12,000 from each tribe differs from the lists of the number in each tribe in the Old Testament because John’s listing is a symbolic listing of the tribes of the true Israel as described by Paul in Romans nine. The true Israel is the Israel of faith not DNA. Thus the total number of believers that will be in heaven is given in the number of 144,000, not a specific number, but a number of completion, all believers in Jesus.
John also tells us about the joy of all believers around the throne of the Lamb forever. There will be no more hunger or thirst, no more scorching heat. Instead, there will be springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Quite a comforting picture John paints for believers in Jesus.
In the Gospel lesson appointed for this day of celebration we have Jesus’ words of blessing and His Words of Gospel. We are described as blessed who recognize and acknowledge that we are poor in spirit so that we do hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God, in other words, we are blessed who hunger and thirst after making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, every Sunday and every day. We are blessed because it is through these means that our Lord feeds us, comforts us, purifies us and gives us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith and life. And this continues to be my concern for this congregation as well as our nation, that is that so many refuse these gifts on a weekly basis. God has so many gifts He wants to give and yet, every Sunday many people refuse those gifts by not being in worship. Let me encourage you, let me exhort you, ladies and gentlemen, come and be given the gifts and encourage and exhort your brothers and sisters who refuse the gifts to come and be given the gifts.
As Jesus says, again in our Gospel lesson, especially blessed are those who believe and are persecuted, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Although we may not suffer the persecution some of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in this world, I might suggest that we do suffer more subtle forms of persecution. The question is, do we stand up and confess our faith, or do we simply allow others to think as they will, even that we do not have faith?
In our text for this morning, John’s first letter, John helps us to understand what love is, what true love is, that is that true love begins with the Father’s Love, with God the Father’s love. True love is that God loves us first and He shows His love in the gift of His Son. We begin at verse one, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 1-3).
Notice first and foremost that God is the prime mover. He first loved us, making us His children. And how does He make us His children? Every year on Good Friday we remember and we even celebrate the giving of Jesus’ life for ours on the cross. We give thanks for His suffering the punishment for our sins. And then, every year on the following Sunday, on Easter Sunday we celebrate His resurrection, the complete defeat of sin, death and the devil. This is how He purchased us, by paying the price for our sins. He makes us His children through means, namely through His means of grace. He makes us His children through His Word, which does what it says, in other words, when the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, says we have faith, that is exactly what we have, faith, given to us by God through the means of His Word. Another means the Lord uses to make us His children is Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name are put on us at Baptism, the Lord gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. These things come to us from outside of us and are given to us from outside of us. These are the Lord’s doing and the Lord’s giving. He makes us His children.
When Jesus came into the world, as we are reminded in the Gospel accounts, the world rejected Him. Jesus was not the Savior the people were looking for, at least not the Savior for which some were looking. Jesus was not a social/political savior. Jesus did not come to over throw the oppressors of the Children of Israel, at least not the oppressors they wanted overthrown. Jesus simply did not fit their definition of who the Savior was or what He should do.
The world rejected Jesus and as He makes us His children, we should expect nothing more or less from the world, in other words, we should expect that the world will reject us. As children of the Lord we do not speak the same language as the world, we do not have the same priorities as the world, we do not have the same outlook as the world. The world speaks of power, fame and fortune. The world speaks of the things of this world, that this is all there is. We speak of sin and forgiveness. We speak of absolutes, absolute truth and love. We speak of the transient nature of this world, that our lives in this world are fast and fleeting. And so, our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come.
John says we are not yet what we will be. John is speaking of our goal of sanctification, that is that, after being given faith by the Holy Spirit, through the outward means of grace, the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us to make us more and more Christ-like. Of course, we understand that we will never be completely Christ-like, at least not on this side of heaven. But when we reach our eternal home of heaven, we will be made perfect again. So, we are no longer what we were before being given faith, that is we are no longer complete sinners, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet all that we will be in heaven, complete and perfect saints.
What does this mean? First we are reminded that God is the prime mover. As John says elsewhere, we love because He first loved us. Here I like the image of the Sun and the moon. When we see the moon shining in the sky, we know we are seeing the reflection of the Sun, because the moon has no light of its own. Thus, when we love others and when we are loved by others, we know that we and they are merely reflecting the love of God to each other, because in and of ourselves, apart from God, we have no love of our own.
God first loves us and then God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. These are gifts from God. These are not gifts we take or get on our own, they are gifts from God. And these gifts He gives through means, namely through outward, external means of Grace, the Bible, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and confession and absolution. Just as we did not choose to be born into this world, but we were conceived by our parents and born into this world, so we do not choose to save ourselves, to get forgiveness for ourselves, these gifts are given from outside of us, namely our Lord has chosen us and gives us the gifts He has to give, forgiveness, faith and life and He delivers these gifts through the means of grace.
God first loves us, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life and then God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is our becoming more and more Christlike, but here again, this is not something we do in and of ourselves, this is God’s doing as well. God the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to always point to Christ, and that is why we do not hear or see much of Him, He is the one, working through the means of grace who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and we do them because He is working them in and through us.
And finally, God brings us into His kingdom. Notice how in all these instances it is God who is doing the doing. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. God has His way with us and we are thankful. We know we get it right and we can have confidence only in this, that God always does it right, and gets it right. I may err, but God never errs. Thanks be to God.
As we celebrate All Saint’s day, then we celebrate the fact that we are saints. And we are reminded as Dr. Luther so well reminded us and as John reminds us, even though we are saints, we are and while we are on this earth we will also continue to be at the same times sinners. So we are saint/sinners. Our life on this earth is a life of sanctification in that our Lord continues to work on us through His means of grace to be strengthened in our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation. Certainly, while we are here on this earth, we will have times when we will fail. We will fall for temptation and we will sin, yet we are not to be discouraged because we are given forgiveness and the Holy Spirit continues working on us to be the people God would have us to be.
Our ultimate hope and certainty is indeed described in the Revelation of John that upon our passing from this earth, either through our own death or through the Lord’s return, we will be united with all the saints, all those who have gone on before us and all those who will go on after us so that we will all gather at the Lord’s throne to be feed and comforted, to give glory to the Lord, to live with Him forever in heaven. To Him alone be all glory. And we might well end by saying as John does, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.” Amen.