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.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Do you remember what happened last week on Christmas Day? After church the family had gathered at Uncle Jim’s house. Everyone was there. You remember, it was a pot-luck meal. Everyone brought their favorite dish. It was quite a spread and everything was delicious, especially Aunt Bee’s buttermilk pie. It was a good time to sit around and catch up on what was happening in everyone’s life. A little later in the afternoon we all sat around the Christmas tree and opened presents. You do remember, don’t you? And then it happened. You opened the present from Uncle Jim. It was the keys to a new car. Do you remember what you did? You took out you wallet and offered to give him five dollars. (Pause) No, that is not what happened. And of course you are thinking, that would be so tacky and that would never happen. No, what happened was that Uncle Jim gave you one of those very thoughtful presents and you were so taken aback that you thanked him about a hundred times. You even told him that if he ever needed anything, to let you know and you would be honored to help him.
Now, although that story may or may not have happened at your Uncle Jim’s house, that story helps us to understand the difference between wanting to earn our salvation, trying to pay Jesus with a few good works for His paying our eternal death penalty, and wanting to respond with thanks for a gift for which we could never pay. Now, please do not label me as a doomsday naysayer, but the fact of the matter is, the end is coming. Either the Lord will return to take us out of this world, or we will die and leave this world, those are the only two ways we have of getting out of this world. It will happen. The end will come, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. In our text we are encouraged to be ready for when it happens and we are given an indication of how we know that we are ready.
We will first look at being ready and we do that by looking at the last part of our text. Jesus says, “35Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks” (v. 35-36). We are to be ready for the Lord’s return. How do we get ready for the Lord’s return? We get ready by being about His business, that is by being in the Word, by reading our Bible, by being in Divine Service, by being in Bible class. It is through these means that our Lord comes to us to get us ready and to keep us ready for His return.
And what happens to those who are ready? We continue with our text, “37Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (v. 37). The master, and here we are talking about Jesus, who finds his servants ready, will do, not the expected, but the unexpected. What normally happens when the master returns home is that he sits down and the servants wait on him. In the case of Jesus, our Master, when He returns to gather us, His faithful people from this earth, He, who humbled Himself and took on the form of a servant and gave His life for us, will serve us.
Our text continues, “38If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (v. 38-40). The kingdom of heaven, Judgement Day, will come. It will come whether we believe it will come or not. It will come before we know it and when we least expect it. It will come like a thief in the night. And so we are to be ready at all times. We are ready when we take our focus off our feet firmly planted in this world and move our focus heavenward. When we take our focus off our temporary surroundings and focus on our eternal life in heaven.
Which brings us back to the first part of our text and the question of “How do we know if we are ready?” One way we know we are ready is by our understanding, acknowledging and confessing that we are unworthy of all the good gifts and blessings our Lord so free lavishes on us. Indeed as we have just celebrated Christmas and the exchanging of presents we focus our attention on the greatest gift, the gift of God in flesh for us and our sins. Thus, our first fruits, tithes and offerings are not a guilt offering but a response of faith, a response to the gift of eternal life earned for us by Jesus and given to us by faith worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. We respond by being good stewards of all that God has given to us and by knowing who or what is our god.
In the verses before our text and verse that would be fit to be a part of our text, we read, “32Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v. 32). As we end this current calendar year, and as we do every year, we are reminded that our time on this earth is fast and fleeting. Yet, here God assures us that heaven is a present reality. Heaven is ours, now. Heaven is not something we have to wait for, it is ours now. Yes, we will have to wait until, either we pass away in this world, or until Christ returns in order to move into heaven, but heaven is ours at this time.
Jesus goes on to tell us that there is a difference between earthly treasure and heavenly treasure. He says, “33Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (v. 33). Actually Jesus speaks of stewardship and giving more often that we might imagine and here He reminds us again, our treasures here on earth may last twenty, thirty, eighty, or a hundred years, but our heavenly treasures last forever, for eternity.
And so we are back to the question, “How do we know we are ready?” “How do we know what is truly our god?” Jesus tells us plainly in our text, “34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (v. 34). “Where your treasure is,” that is, where you spend you money, “there your heart will be also,” this is what is most important to you in your life and that truly is your god. These are not my words, I did not make this up, this is what God tells us and this is an indication of what is important in your life. Where is your treasure? Where do you spend your money? Although we may profess certain priorities in life, if we really want to know what are our priorities, they are what we live, what we do, how we speak, where we spend our time and our treasure.
In our Epistle lesson we are pointed back to where we are always to be pointed in order to hear the Gospel and the Good News of salvation, Indeed, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” As we end one calendar year and are on the verge of beginning a new calendar year, if the Lord is willing for that to be so, we do so with all boldness and confidence. We do so, not simply speaking with our lips that we believe that with God all things are possible, but with our actions as well.
As we look forward to a new year, as we do every year, we look forward to a lot of uncertainties. We do not know what the future holds. We do not know what God has in mind for us as a nation, nor as a congregation. We do not know if the Lord will tarry for another year, or two, or a thousand, all we know is that the Lord has promised to be with us and that He will return and so we live on in faith, trusting in Him and in Him alone. And in so doing, we are ready.
So now we take what we have been hearing and we apply it to our own lives. We do this by taking a sober look at our own lives and what we value. What is it that we value? What is truly our god? Do we look at what we have done for God, or what we think we have done for God, and reconcile our account with what He owes us, or do we acknowledge what God has done for us and give thanks for all His good gifts and blessings? And what has God done for us? God has done everything for us. He has given His Son to take on human flesh and blood. He has given His Son to live for us, perfectly in our place. He has given for His Son to take all our sins upon Himself and suffer and die, to pay the eternal death penalty for us, for each one of us. He has given His Son to earn eternal life, heaven for us.
After His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus promised that He would return. And He will return, thus it is imperative that we are ready. So now, we add to all that our Lord has already done for us the fact that He also works to get us ready. And He does that as we make regular and diligent use of the means He has given to get us ready, His means of Grace, the Bible and the sacraments.
Finally, we are left simply to respond to all that He has done for us and given to us and we respond by praising Him for all His good gifts and blessings.
I urge you, be ready. I encourage you to know that you are ready as the Lord makes you ready. We will see Jesus, sooner than we know and probably sooner than we might expect. May the Lord make you and keep you ready. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Over the past four weeks we have been with the angels as they have worked at preparing the world for the Advent, the coming, the birth, of our King, the One promised in the Garden of Eden, the Savior of the world, the Messiah. We began the Advent season by hearing the angel, even God Himself, as we describe Jesus as the pre-incarnate Jesus appear to Abram and reiterate the promise He made in the Garden of Eden, except at this time narrowing the family line of fulfillment of the promise to the family of Abram, whose name He changed to Abraham. We moved on the hear the angel Gabriel announce to Zechariah that he and his aged, barren wife, Elizabeth would give birth to the forerunner of the Messiah. We heard the same angel, Gabriel announce to the unwed, virgin girl, Mary, that she would be the mother of the Savior of the world. We heard the words of the unidentified angel as he spoke to Joseph in a dream to assure him that it was okay to take Mary as his wife, for what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. And, last night we sat out in the country and heard the message of the angel to the shepherds that the Savior was born. This morning the message is to the whole world as we all together celebrate the birth of Jesus.
This morning as we celebrate the birth of our Savior I want to make two points from our text. The first point is about the words that “the time came for the baby to be born (v. 6).” What is it about this time? This time is first and foremost the time from the promise made in the Garden of Eden and reiterated time and again to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob on so on, until now, the time of the promise being fulfilled. The time came means that everything was ready. The world was ready, the children of Israel were back in the promised land, more or less and were ready. Everything was in order and ready according to God’s perfect plan and purpose.
The time came is also in reference to the time for the child to be born, that is, forty weeks, or nine months. This child was conceived and born of a woman, a human woman, and like any ordinary child this child was born after the usual nine months of pregnancy.
Which brings us to the second point I want to draw from this text and that is, what is it about this child that is so special? We read verses seven and eleven, “7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” “11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 7, 11). This child was conceived and born of a woman. This child is Mary’s firstborn child and this child is truly human. That fact that the child was truly human is important, because it is only as a human that He can become a substitute for us, that is that He will be able to trade His perfect life for our imperfect life.
This child was born in humbleness. Although He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He left all the glory that was His in heaven, took on human flesh and blood, and became one of us. He was born a king, indeed He was from the house and lineage of great King David and great King Solomon, yet He was not born in the usual way of nobility. He was not born with lots of money, power, fame or fortune. He was not born with a lot of pomp and circumstance. Instead, He was born to poor, humble parents. He was born in a small town, the home town of His father, Joseph. He was not born in the upper room or guest room of the house because there was no room as other relatives who had arrived earlier took those places. So, He was more than likely born in the main part of the house where the family and some animals stayed which is why His first bed was a manger, a feeding trough for the animals.
This child was born in the town of King David, in Bethlehem. This fact is another important fact because the prophets of old told us very distinctly that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. If He had not been born in Bethlehem then He could not and would not be the Savior. It is important that we keep the facts straight. Luke the Gospel writer and historian, as well as all the other writers of Holy Scripture were sure to keep their facts straight, for you see, the odds of someone accidentally fulfilling more than one of the Old Testament prophecies, let alone fulfilling them all, is too great to count. Jesus did not fulfill them accidentally or coincidentally, He fulfilled them as a part of God’s plan to save His people, you and me included.
This child is Christ the Lord. He is the one who spoke to Moses and said, “I Am” has sent you. He is Yahweh the one and only true God. He is one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God.
As the world around us celebrates this day as a secular day, as a holiday or even as a Christless Christmas day, exchanging presents, getting a day off, and so on, really with no thought for the reason for the season and the reason for the celebration, we celebrate this day with an understanding that there is greater meaning to the celebration. Yes, we have the privilege of looking back and seeing that these things have already taken place, but that does not diminish our celebration, rather it heightens it as we continue to look forward to His coming again.
Today we celebrate the fact that God’s promise, made some 3000 to 4000 years earlier has come to pass. The perfect world and the perfect union between God and man that God had create and that Adam and Eve had broken was now set to be restored. Something we could not do was beginning to be done by the only one who could do it, God Himself.
Jesus birth marked that God was once more intervening in human history. Again, something we could not do, God set out to do for us. Reminding us that God is not watching us from a distance, but He is right here with us each and every day, each and every step of the way.
Jesus birth marked God taking on human flesh. Jesus became one of us. Jesus lived for us in our place. He struggled through all the temptations of life that we face and indeed He suffered through even more and greater temptations than we might ever imagine. He obeyed all of God’s laws perfectly. He did everything that we are unable to do. Which reminds us and gives us comfort to know that we can take all our troubles, problems, cares, worries and concerns to the Lord because He does know and understand what we are going through, because He has been there.
Most importantly, Jesus came to give His life for ours. The baby was born to die. That is the hard message of Christmas, but it is the message nonetheless. The reason the baby was born was because of our sins, your sins and mine. The reason the baby was born was to give His life for ours, for yours and for mine.
This morning we celebrate. We celebrate because our sins are forgiven. We celebrate because the greatest gift is not the gift we give to each other, it is not any gift which we bring to give to the Lord, as if there were any gift or anything we could bring to Him or give to Him. No, the greatest gift is the gift which God gives to us, the gift of Himself, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of life.
We celebrate because heaven is a present reality. We do not have to wonder about our future. We do not have to wonder about what will happen when we pass on from this world. Heaven is ours. It is a free gift, it is the gift given to us through the life of the child whose birth we celebrate.
The time has come. Today is Christmas Day. Today and for the next eleven days (the twelve days of Christmas beginning last evening) we celebrate the birth of Jesus. If you have not done so already, most of you will leave here, go home, eat and unwrap presents, or unwrap presents and then eat. You may spend time with family and friends. I pray that as you celebrate, that as you unwrap the presents that you exchange with one another, that you will remember that the most important gift is not the presents we exchange, but the gift that God gives to us, the gift of Himself in flesh, the gift of His life for ours, the gift of forgiveness of sins, the gift of new life and the gift of eternal life. May the Lord bless your Christmas celebration to His glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Do you know what it is like to be an outcast? The shepherds knew, first hand. By no means am I hear to speak unkindly of the shepherds, but I can assure you that even in our politically correct world today we would be hard pressed to accept the shepherds as they were. For you see, shepherds spent most of their time out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks. They probably had an outdoorsy aroma to them, an odor of smoke from the camp fire, mixed with the odor of the sheep, mixed with the odor of whatever they may have come in contact. Let us just say, shepherds were not normally invited to the big social gatherings of their day.
As we did with Abram, as we did with Zechariah and Elizabeth, as we did with Mary and as we did with Joseph, so we do with the shepherds, we ask, What is it that is so special about these shepherds, we ask, what is it that makes them the first ones to be blessed with the Christmas news? Well, to answer that question, let us look at what we know about the shepherds, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (v. 8). We know that they cared for sheep. They often risked their own lives for the life of a sheep, chasing away wolves, lions, bears and whatever that might try to kill the sheep. We know that they were keeping watch over their flock by night.
We know that they spent most of their lives outdoors through winter, rain, or storm. And as I said earlier, they were not the most welcomed of people. Even so, it is interesting that Jesus uses the example of the shepherd to compare Himself and how He cares for us, His sheep. Well, let us “cut to the chase.” There was nothing about the shepherds that would make them worthy of being the first to hear the good news of Christ’s birth. Just like there was nothing in and of Abram to be the one from whom the Messiah would be born, just as there was nothing in and of Zechariah and Elizabeth to be the parents of the way preparer for the Messiah, John the Baptist, just as there was nothing in and of Mary to be the mother of Jesus, and just as there was nothing in and of Joseph to be the adopted father of Jesus, so there is nothing in and of these shepherds which would make them worthy to be the first one’s to hear the message that the Savior is born. So, again, we acknowledge and confess that it was purely by God’s grace that He chose to first take the good news to the shepherds. Having said that we might reason that certainly, among the reasons God had for doing so was to show that Jesus came to earth to save all people, from the lowliest shepherd to the greatest king. Jesus came to save all.
So, what happened on that Christmas Eve night in the field? “9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ 15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (v. 9-14). Let me try to paint you a picture. Imagine if you will, a calm winter evening. It was clear and the stars were shining brightly in the sky. The sheep had all laid down for the evening rest. The camp fire was burning down. Dinner was over, the dishes were put away. It was just a perfect night. The shepherds were enjoying the rest, even to the point of almost falling asleep.
Suddenly and unexpectedly an angel appears in heavenly glory. I wish I could make some sort of comparison for you to help you visualize the scene, but there is nothing that would do justice to this scene. To be resting peacefully, watching the stars on a calm winter evening and then to have that peacefulness interrupted by the appearance of a bright heavenly angel would startle almost everyone. And what on earth would an angel be doing there we might ask. Well, when we understand that God is being born in human flesh as a baby, certainly the angels were there to defend this Child from whatever attacks the devil might think of bringing.
But even more startling than the sight of the angel was the announcement that angel came to make. The announcement of the good news of the birth of the Savior of the world. Certainly these shepherds knew of the promise of a Savior, but they were not expecting it during their life time and especially not on this particular night. They were very much like we are: We know that Jesus will come again to take us to heaven. We do not know when. And I would suggest that most of us really do not believe that it will be during our lifetime, so for it to come would very much startle us.
To show that the angels message was true, the angel announced the sign that the child would be in a manger. I do not know about you, but about this time I would have to say, “Right!?” The Savior of the world was born tonight and you are trying to tell us that He is laying in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.
Then the angel punctuates the message as he is joined by a great heavenly host praising God and saying, “14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Now, notice that this scene is described as a host of angels. A host is a description of an army of angels. Getting back to our earlier comment about God as a baby, indeed God is protecting Himself as a human child with an army of angels. Now usually we have our little girl children play the part of angels at our children’s program. I would suggest we have all the children dress in camo and wield swords. Anyway, then the angels leave. I could see people today standing around looking at each other and denying that they had seen anything for fear of being thought, “they are not in their right mind.”
The shepherds, however, did believe. They talked it over and they left their sheep and went to Bethlehem. They went to confirm what was told them by the angel. They went to see the new born King, the Savior of the world.
And when the shepherds got to Bethlehem it was just as the angel had said. They found the place as described by the angel. They saw Mary and Joseph sitting near the feed trough, the manger. And in the manger they saw the new born King.
The shepherds went away from that place filled with great joy. They could not contain the great joy that was in their hearts as they left telling everyone who would listen the good news of what they had seen and heard. The shepherds were uninhibited by what people might have thought of them as shepherds, or of the seeming unbelievable message they proclaimed. They simply told everyone the great good news that was in their heart.
Does this same excitement fill us today? We have taken the time over the last four weeks to prepare ourselves for this moment, for the celebration of the birth of our new born King. God comes to us today to tell us of the birth of His Son. He does not tell us by angels, but He does tell us through His Holy Precious Word. He does not tell us by, what we might imagine as, some great and grand demonstration as He did the shepherds, but He tells us nonetheless through His Word.
And, as the people of Jesus’ day were looking forward to His first coming, we too continue to look forward to the coming again of the Savior, when He will come to take us to be with Himself in heaven for eternity or our passing on from this world and going to be with Him in heaven. Until that time our own passing or the Lord’s return, God continues to show us the Christ child in His Word. And it is that same Word which reminds us, yes, in the middle of our joyous celebration of birth and new life, that same Word reminds us that this baby was born for one purpose, to die, to suffer the pangs of hell on the cross, for your sins and for mine. That announcement, that the baby was born to die, may seem to put a damper on our celebration, but it makes it all the more a grand celebration, because, since that baby was born to die and since we know that baby did die, we also know that baby did not stay dead, but rose on the third day. That death and resurrection means we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, indeed, we will never die. Our God lives.
As we come again this evening, to see the Christ Child in the manger through God’s Word, we know that very much like the shepherds who responded by telling everyone what they had seen and heard, so God stirs in our hearts to share that wonderful Word with others.
As you go home and begin and continue your Christmas celebration, as you open gifts and presents tonight or early in the morning, let those presents remind you of the greatest gift of all, the greatest gift of love, God in human flesh, that baby born in Bethlehem. “14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Amen.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
This evening we come to what must be the most difficult task for the angel, maybe that is why he appeared to Joseph in a dream. Joseph had found out that his betrothed, his legal wife and yet wife to be, the young woman he loved dearly, as his plan of dealing with the situation would suggest, was pregnant, and he knew that it was not his child. Certainly he wanted to think the best, but what best is there in this situation? After all, a person cannot get pregnant by accident! Or, by herself. So, again, we have God intervening in the lives of His people to assure that things go according to His plan.
But first, as we have been doing, as we did with Zechariah and Elizabeth and as we did with Mary, let us get to Joseph and begin by answering the question, what do we know about Joseph? Well, we do not know very much about him. We know that he was Mary’s husband (v. 19). He was betrothed to her and that meant that they were legally married. As we said last week, they had not yet consummated the marriage, but they were legally married and so Joseph would have to file for a divorce in order to legally separate from her.
We also know that Joseph was a righteous man (v. 19). He shows his righteousness in that he did want to put the best construction on everything. He did want to believe the best about Mary. I believe it is obvious that he did love Mary and did not want anything bad to happen to her, like getting stoned to death according to the letter of the law. The law required that someone caught in adultery was stoned. And certainly being pregnant without being married qualifies for adultery. Our text does not tell us how Joseph knew that Mary was pregnant and our text does not say it, but there is a sense that Mary has told the story of the angel appearing to her and announcing that she would give birth to a Son, even to the Savior of the world and it might be that Joseph wants to believe it, but he just can not bring himself to do so.
Keeping things fair as we have the past two weeks, we must also admit that although our text tells us that Joseph is a righteous man, I believe we would still believe that he is still not worthy, in and of himself, to be a part of God’s plan of salvation. Although we may know little about Joseph’s life, history, family, etc, we do know that he too, just as you and I were, he was conceived and born in sin and we might surmise that there is nothing within himself that would make him worthy of being a part of God’s plan. Again, we see that it is by God’s grace, because the Lord chose him, that he has a part in God’s plan of salvation. And we might even say that his part in God’s plan was his part even if by his own reluctance.
Now let us look at what happened in his dream? We are told that the angel appeared to him in a dream (v. 20). And notice that we are not told the name of the angel who appeared to him. We might believe it to be the same angel that appeared to Zechariah and to Mary, the angel Gabriel, but we are not told in the text. We are simply told that an angel appeared to him in a dream. We are not told why the angel did not appear directly to him as he did to Zechariah and Mary, but that the angel appeared in a dream. Yet, this is the way the Lord directed the angel to come to Joseph and this is the way he came.
The angel explained that Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 20). He does not go into as much of an explanation as he does to Mary, but he assures Joseph that what is happening is happening by a miracle of God. This is God’s will, it is God’s plan, it is His doing, Mary was chosen by God for this important roll in history. Mary is a willing participant because she is submitting to the will of God Himself. Mary has not been unfaithful, as a matter of fact she has been the most faithful of all, especially because her faithfulness has its beginning in being faithful to God.
The angel explained to Joseph that he was to give the child the name Jesus. This giving of the name is important because in giving Jesus His name, Joseph is made to be the adopted, human father (v. 21) of Jesus.
But there is more to this name than just Joseph’s adoption of Jesus as his legal, earthly son. The angel also explained that this child was to be named Jesus because the name Jesus means Savior. The name Jesus apply expresses what He will do, that is that He will be the Savior of the world. Jesus will be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament (v. 22-23) prophecies concerning the One promised in the Garden of Eden, the One reiterated in promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the One to which all the Old Testament pointed.
Finally our text tells us that Joseph awoke and did as the angel commanded (v. 24-25). There was now no question in his mind. There was now no doubt in his mind. And unlike Zechariah and Mary, Joseph did not ask any questions of the angel. Joseph shows his righteousness in his actions of fulfilling his plan of taking Mary for his wife, adopting Jesus as his son and providing a family for both.
So, now we have seen God provide a “way preparer” for the coming Savior in the person of the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the person of John the Baptist. God also has now provided Jesus with an earthly mother and a way to be born as a human being. And He has provided Him with an earthly father. God is doing the things that He needs to do in order to save the world, His creatures, you and me, who have and who continue to rebel and sin against Him.
As we continue to prepare ourselves for our Christmas celebration, we are again reminded of God’s plan of salvation. God’s plan which He began when He gave His promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden immediately after they fell into sin. We continue to prepare ourselves as we see the difficulty God had in working with us sinful human beings in order to save us.
We again see God intervening in human history to fulfill His promise. Our text is quite clear as it reminds us that the child will be called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” God is intervening in human history as He takes on flesh and blood. God the Creator is becoming one with His creation in order to save us from our sins and eternal destruction.
For the fourth week in a row we see that with God all things are possible. We say that we believe that, at least with our lips, but unfortunately, so often we act as if we do not believe it. In a very real way we act much like the righteous man, Joseph, making our own plans to get done that which we believe needs to be done without consulting God who is the one who is actually in charge and can and does do according to what He knows is best for us. Unfortunately for us, I do not believe that God will necessarily send an angel to us in a dream to make sure that our actions conform to what our lips speak.
Joseph may not have completely understood all that the angels was telling him, but he believed and showed he believed by acting accordingly. He took Mary as his wife. She gave birth to a Son and he called Him Jesus which means Savior.
This evening marks three days before Christmas Eve. Are we ready for the celebration? We have just a few days to complete our preparations. My prayer for you this week is that the Lord would continue to fill you with His Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit will continue to guide you as you review the events from the Holy Bible that lead up to and are a part of our Christmas celebration. That the Holy Spirit will continue to work through His Word to strengthen you in your faith, in your understanding of the events that are being described, and get you completely prepared for your celebration. And as He prepares you for your Christmas celebration I pray that He will also continue to prepare you for when He comes again with power and great might to take you to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Next Saturday is Christmas Eve and the beginning of our celebration of the birth of our Messiah, our Savior, even God Himself in human flesh, promised way back in the Garden of Eden. This morning our message of Gospel and hope come from Isaiah the prophet. Interestingly enough, as is the case very often with a message of good news and hope, there is a strike of law that hits us. I say this because more often than not, the message of good news and hope is either a message that we believe is too good to be true, or it is a message that hits at our sinful nature so that we have a difficult time believing it is for us, or it is a message which points our dependency on God and we do not necessarily like to depend on Him. Also, interestingly enough, I am amazed at how often those who need to hear the message fail to hear and those who already know the message believe it is speaking even more to them. Anyway, let us get to our text.
In our text, we have Ahaz who is under distress. He is being threatened and so he is in need of help. His solution is to trust in humanity, we read, “10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11‘Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’ 12But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test’”(v. 10-12). Ahaz is being threatened, and instead of praying to and trusting in God he is putting his trust in the Assyrian army. Now, if we were honest with ourselves and each other, how often do we find ourselves in this same or in a similar situation. We are under distress, troubles seem to abound and what do we do? We seek help, aid and comfort from others, and even from others with similar difficulties. These are often called support groups. And I would suppose one can get some comfort from a support group. However, Isaiah reminds us that we should take it to the Lord in prayer. Certainly if anyone knows our sorrow, our pain and our suffering it would be the Lord. And certainly, if anyone should know how and would have the ability to help us it would be the Lord.
So, Ahaz does go to the Lord. When he prays to the Lord, God asks him to ask for a sign. In other words, we might say God gives Ahaz permission to test Him to make sure He will answer Ahaz’ prayer. Unfortunately, Ahaz refuses, but he does so in a very pious manner, suggesting that his refusal is because he knows better than to put the Lord to the test. Actually, Isaiah shows us that this is not the case, rather his refusal to ask simply shows his unbelief. Here again, how often do we find ourselves in the same situation as Ahaz. We fail to ask God because we “don’t want to bother Him with our problems,” or we fail to ask God because we might think we already know His answer and perhaps the answer we think we will get may not be the answer we want to hear. Might I suggest that our problem is the same as Isaiah says Ahaz’ problem is, that is that we simply have a lack of faith. Of course, we never like to hear the truth that we lack faith after all, we like to think we are good Christians.
Thanks be to God that He is God and that He did not let Ahaz’ lack of faith get in His way. God gave a sign anyway, we read, “13And he said, ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria’”(v. 13-17). Notice how Ahaz was beginning to try the patience of God. God shows His weariness with Ahaz in simply stepping in. How often does God get exasperated with us. God is God. He is there ready, willing and able to help us at all times and what do we do, we wait and we wait and we wait. We try to solve our problems for ourselves. We try to not be burden the Lord. What we fail to do is realize that God is ready, is willing, is able and wants to help us.
With Ahaz, God gives a sign. God’s sign was a sign of ultimate deliverance in His Son. God’s sign was that a child would be conceived and born of a Virgin. And God’s sign was the this child would be given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This sign given to Ahaz is a sign given to us. Of course, we have the advantage of looking back over two thousand years and seeing that this promise was fulfilled in Jesus. Ahaz did not have that advantage.
God’s promise and sign was that before Immanuel is born, the children of Israel will be brought back from exile. This promise was fulfilled, because before Jesus was born the children of Israel were back in the promised land. The conditions of their return may not have been exactly what they hoped for, but they were living in the promised land.
And, although the children of Israel did not have a life as in the days of Kings David and Solomon, they were good days. When Jesus was born the children of Israel had some freedom, at least they were free to worship as they chose to worship. And notice that none of this happened because of Ahaz or because of any one person, but all this happened according to God’s promise, according to God’s timing and according to God’s directing and doing.
So, what does this mean? Today we suffer the same old problem that we human beings have suffered since the beginning of time and since our own creation. Our problem is that we trust more in ourselves and in humanity rather than trusting in God. We think we can do it. We think we can make things happen. As we work our way through the Bible in Bible Class and in our own personal reading of Scripture, I find it very interesting that when people attempted to “help God” out from time to time in the Old Testament, what usually happened was they made a bigger mess of the situation; take for example Abraham telling the king that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife; or Rebecca putting goats hair on Jacob in order to help him get Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. How often do we fail to take it to the Lord in prayer and trust and rely on Him, even if and especially if we know or we think we know His answer may not be what we want to hear.
Fortunately, in spite of us, God continues to call us to faith and give us faith. Fortunately God does not depend on us. Too often when we discuss and make decisions as a congregation by the way we talk a person might think that the future of this church depended on us and that is too unfortunate. Do we really believe that God can accomplish only as much as we will let Him accomplish? I think we forget that this congregation has been around long before many of us came on the scene and I believe it will be around long after we are gone. What I believe is also unfortunate, and here is where we follow in the footsteps of Ahaz, we falter in faith and show our failure and unbelief by refusing to ask great things of God. Remember a couple weeks ago on Wednesday when we were reminded that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were beyond child barring years and Elizabeth was barren, yet she conceived according to God’s good will and favor. Remember last Wednesday when we heard that a Virgin conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we were reminded that with God all things are possible. And so we may say, “Yes, we believe that,” but when push comes to shove in our “real” life world, we have a great tendency to disbelieve and we speak such unbelief as well. Perhaps we would do well to take it to the Lord in prayer, to ask Him what great things He wants to accomplish through us. And then, instead of looking at what we believe to be obstacles, and instead of simply throwing our hands up in defeat, perhaps we might ask, “how can we do this,” or better, “how can God use us and help us to do this?”
I believe, at times, we forget that God is still faithful. Perhaps this might be because we tend to reflect our own nature onto God, that is that because we are not faithful in keeping our own promises and we cannot trust ourselves, so we reflect this tendency on God and sometimes on others, thinking that God is not faithful and cannot be trusted. But we need to remember, almost four thousand years went by before God fulfilled His promise to send a Savior, but He kept His promise. God has waited a little over two thousand years and has not yet fulfilled His promise to come again, but I believe He will keep that promise too. And I also believe that He will fulfill that promise before we might expect, either by returning, or by taking us to be with Himself.
In our text for this morning, and what we are getting ready to celebrate is that God kept His promise to send a Savior, the promise first made in the Garden of Eden, the promise made to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve and our sin. God has fulfilled His promise in Jesus. We are not quite ready to celebrate that fulfillment, we have one more week to wait, but we know that He did fulfill this promise.
Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to deliver us and all people from sin, death and hell. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, who’s birth we await to celebrate and who’s return we eagerly anticipate. Jesus brings deliverance from sin, death and the devil and eternal salvation to all who believe even in spite of our unbelief, disbelief or despair.
Personally, I must confess, I wonder at times how and why the Lord puts up with us. And yet, this morning I am pointed back to Him and His Word which does what it says. I am reminded of what a great and wonderful, what a gracious and gift giving, indeed what a loving God we have. God does not depend on us, but He does and gives because that is His nature and that is His usual way of dealing with us. As we continue to get ready to celebrate His first birth, as a baby in Bethlehem, my prayer is that this celebration will cause us to continue to move our attention heavenward to trust in the Lord and lean on Him and His most precious promises. May the Lord give, strengthen and keep you in faith. May the Lord give you calm and peace during this season of celebration. May the Lord bless you and keep you so that in the end, we may all stand before His throne, with all the saints who have gone on before us and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Last week we were with Zechariah as the angel, Gabriel, announced to him that his wife Elizabeth, though barren and beyond child bearing years, would conceive and bear a son and that son would be the way preparer for the Messiah, the Savior of the world. At which point we also heard Zechariah’s words of doubt and skepticism, “how can this be?” This week we come to the scene of a young virgin, maybe thirteen, certainly not older than sixteen. We hear the same angel, Gabriel, greet her and announce that she will be the mother of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. As we hear the angel make his announcement to Mary we will certainly notice a difference in how the message is received. Remember Zechariah was old, experienced in the ways of life, even in the cruelty of not having children. He grew up as a priest in the temple worshiping, sacrificing to and praying to a God who seemed to, all but, have abandoned His people. I would suggest that he would have ample reason to be skeptical. This evening we will find quite a contrast in Mary. Well, let us get to it.
We begin by reviewing what we know about Mary. Our text reminds us that she was a descendant of David, as was her betrothed (v. 26-27). This is important, because we know that the promised Messiah would come from the line of David. If she were not from the line of David we would know that she could not be the mother of the Messiah.
We know that although she was betrothed, she had not yet been formally married and had never had relations with a man (v. 27). In the terminology of that day and even of today we would say that they had not yet consummated the marriage.
Now, last week we talked about Zechariah and Elizabeth and we noted all along that nothing of their ancestry, nothing of their lives, nothing in and of themselves, made them worthy of being a part of God’s plan of salvation. To be fair we should also note that there really is nothing in Mary’s ancestry and nothing in her life that makes her worthy of being a part of God’s plan of salvation, either. Yes, she was from the line of David, but so were many other young women. Yes, she was unmarried and a virgin, but certainly so were many other young women. Which brings us to the same point we made last week, it was by God’s grace that He chose Mary to be the mother of God. Not that Mary is to be worshiped and revered, but it was God who chose her, not because of anything on her part, but simply by His grace. Again, God is acting and doing the things He does not according to our reason or logic, but according to His good will and pleasure and according to those things that bring praise and glory to His Holy Name.
So, what happened in Mary’s house? Our text tells us that she was greeted by the angel as one who was highly favored and this high favor was by God’s grace (v. 28). She was given God’s grace, she did not earn it. It was God’s grace that He put upon her and because of the grace He put on her she was highly favored. And notice Mary’s response, she was troubled (v. 29). Certainly she knew her sinful nature, that she was conceived and born in sin and that she was a sinner and now here she is standing in the presence of an angel, a messenger from God, of course this would have been troubling.
After greeting Mary, the angel announced that she would give birth to a child and that child would be the Savior of the world (v. 30-33). We do not spend enough time with this simple announcement, as we should. Because, you see, what the angel has just announce to Mary is that she will be a part of the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament and the hope of the world. She will give birth to the Son promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. She would give birth to the one who would give His life as a sacrifice for her sins as well as for the sins of the world, and for your sins and mine. She would give birth to God Himself. This really is an announcement that would knock a person over.
Mary’s response to this announcement was not a question of doubt, but a question of “procedure” (v. 34). We might suggest that she was still young enough that she had not yet developed the skepticism that Zechariah had when he questioned the angel. Mary knew how babies were born. She knew that she was not married and that she had not consummated the marriage with Joseph. She knew that physically, according to nature, this could not happen and so she asked how this would happen.
The angel explains to her what will happen (v. 35-37). What will happen will happen only by the power and hand of God. What will happen will be nothing short of a miracle. What will happen is that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, will impregnate her. Just ast the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to impregnate us with with, to give faith, so the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God for Mary to conceive. Because this Child is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Child that is conceived in her will be both God and man. Mary will become the mother of a son who will be both God and man.
So, with the faith of a child, Mary submits to the will of the Lord (v. 38). I wonder if she understands the ramifications of what is about to happen. Certainly she knows that to be pregnant out of marriage could mean her life, being stoned to death. She does not know what her betrothed husband will say because she did not talk it over with him. She simply answers in faith and submits to God’s will and says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
As we were reminded last week with the conception of John to a mother and father who were beyond child bearing years and barren, with God all things are possible. God’s miracles do not depend on us and our belief or unbelief. Miracles happen because God makes them happen.
This evening we come together to continue preparing ourselves for our celebration of the new born King. We remind ourselves that it was not only for the sins of Adam and Eve that God promised to send a Savior, but it is for our sins as well.
This evening we are reminded once again of the great love our God has for us, so much that He intervened into our human history to make a promise to send a Savior and to fulfill His promise. Yes, we are reminded once again that this baby whose birth we are preparing once again to celebrate was born to die, for you and for me.
The events that we are “seeing” are not logical and reasonable, at least not according to our human understanding, but we realize that with God all things are possible. Indeed, what we are seeing is God loving us, His children. We see God acting according to what He knows we need and according to what is best for us. We see God doing what needs to be done for us because of His great love for us.
This evening we come again to see that our salvation is near, that Jesus Christ the Lord, was born as true God and true man. We see how Jesus is ushering in the Kingdom of God, indeed the last days of this world, we are living in the end times. And we continue getting ready to celebrate the birth of our Savior.
I would imagine that if I asked you if you thought your faith was more like Zechariah’s or Mary’s we would all like to say Mary’s, but we would probably have to admit, it really is more like Zechariah’s. How often we doubt God’s work and power in our own lives and especially in our own church and we demonstrate our doubt through our actions or rather, through our lack of action. As we continue in this Advent season I pray that the Lord would “melt” our hearts so that we could all be more like and have a faith more like Mary’s. I pray that we all may first and foremost believe God’s forgiveness and then share that forgiveness with others. As the Lord calls you to be His child in service to Him in His kingdom, I pray that He would move us all to answer, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Two weeks ago we talked about what a good and gracious gift giving God we have. We were reminded that our faith life and faith walk are not of our choosing, earning or deserving, but our faith life and faith walk are God’s doing, they are a response to all that God has done, all that He does and all that He will continue to do in and through us. It is God who has chosen us, put faith in our hearts and through His very means of grace continues to strengthen and keep us in faith. Our faith life and faith walk are a response of faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit and so, our actions, our lives reflect that faith which has been given to us by the Holy Spirit. This is shown in our lives through our regular divine service and Bible class attendance, through our speaking words of encouragement and building up one another, through our giving of our time, our talents and our treasure in service to God and His kingdom. Our text for this morning is another reminder of what a good and gracious gift giving God we have and how wonderful His gifts truly are.
In verses one through four we read about the first response to what God gives. “1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; 2it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (v. 1-4).
The first response to what the Lord gives is the response of the whole earth. The whole earth will rejoice greatly and shout for joy, because even the whole world is waiting in eager anticipation of Christ second coming. The whole world is waiting for Christ’s second coming because it too is enslaved to sin, just like human beings. The whole world is waiting to be recreated and made perfect again, like it was before the fall into sin. And when it has been recreated the whole world will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of the Lord will be given to all. The whole world, plants and animals, great and small, all will be given the glory of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is the original perfection in which all things were created.
The glory of the Lord will overcome us. We will all be perfect. Then we will build up each other, the strong building up the weak. There will be no struggle for authority, for power, or for might, or seeming authority, power or might. We will all be perfect and live in perfect harmony.
In His second coming God will make all things new on the earth as we read picking up at verses five, “5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes” (v. 5-7)
The Lord will grant physical healing to all. There will be no more diseases, no more broken bodies, no more blindness, no more deafness, no more pain and suffering, no more ailments of any kind. Our bodies will be healed completely and made perfect.
The whole earth, the ground and all, will be healed of original sin. Man will no longer need to toil and labor, pulling weeds, or chopping down thorns. There will no longer be places that lack water, nor places that have too much water. The whole world, all of creation will be perfect. All these things will happen because God will make these things happen.
For the believers in Jesus Christ, for the faithful, they will follow the way to heaven as we read picking up at verses eight, “8And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there” (v. 8-9).
The way of holiness will be the highway that leads to heaven. This way will be for those made righteous by God. Do not misunderstand what Isaiah is saying. It is not our righteousness, but God’s righteousness put on us at our baptism, earned for us by Jesus death and resurrection. God’s holiness will be the highway that leads to heaven.
The heathen, the unclean, the unbeliever will not be allowed on this highway. Isaiah is very specific when he says that “The unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way.”
And on this highway there will be no fear because there will be no enemies, they will all have been defeated. This highway will be a protected highway, protected from all harm and danger, from all evil. This highway will be a highway for the Lord’s people.
Our response is further described in verse ten. “10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (v. 10).
If you have been following our theme from two weeks ago and today, it should not surprise you when I say that our response of faith is first and foremost to be given the gifts God has to give. We are given His spiritual gifts by being in divine service and Bible class, by having family and personal devotions, by remembering our baptism and attending the Lord’s Supper. We also are given God’s gifts by acknowledging that He is the giver of all.
This also means that the opposite is true, that is that we refuse the gifts God give by not having regular attendance in divine service and Bible class, by not having family and personal devotions, by not remembering our Baptism and attending the Lord’s Supper, for to not take part in the gifts God gives is gift refusal and is sin. Thus, it is imperative that first and foremost we are given to!
Next we respond by giving ourselves to the Lord, as He motivates us to do so and only as He motivates us to do so. I have said it before and I will say it again, God does not want our money, He does not want anything from us, as if we have anything that He would need from us. God is God and He has everything and everything is His. He is the one who gives in the first place. What God wants is, God want us. He wants us to be in divine service where He can give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give. He wants us to be in Bible class. He wants us to have personal and family devotions. God wants us, He wants you and me. And He wants to pour out His good gifts and blessings on us. When God has us, all the other things will fall into place. Let me say that again, when God has us, all the other things will fall into place. It is God who comes to us through the means of grace, through the Word, the Bible, through Confession and Absolution and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in our faith and to keep us in our faith. It is Jesus death and resurrection that has won for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven and it is through His means of grace that He lavishly pours out on us all these gifts.
After being given to from the Lord, we respond by singing praises to His name. We respond by praying and thanking Him for His many good gifts and blessings.
I want to make sure that we understand, our faith life and faith walk is not a have too, but it is a get to, it is not responding to God because He needs something from me. My faith life and faith walk is my responding to what the Lord has done for me and continues to do for me, what the Lord has given to me and what He continues to give to me. Our faith life and faith walk is what Christians do because of our need to respond to the many good gifts and blessings we have been given from the Lord. It is the fact that we just cannot help it, we must respond. And one’s faith life and faith walk is a privilege meant only for believers.
Fourteen and a half years ago God, through you, extended a call to me to be your pastor. In contemplating this call one person told me, “You don’t want to go there, that’s a dying congregation.” Well, two responses crossed my mind. First, dying congregations need a pastor too, but second, is it really dying? Since I have been here I have seen some members of this congregation pass away, and literally die, but I have also seen many children born and many new young families become a part of this congregation so that, really this congregation is not getting older, but younger. I have also witnessed many members transfer from sister congregations. However, my concern is that this still may be a dying congregation. I say that because, unfortunately this congregation seems to follow the same pattern of most all congregations, that is that on any given Sunday 60-70% of the members refuse the gifts God has to give by absenting themselves from divine service and Bible Class. I have to tell you, I hurt for God because so many people reject Him each and every Sunday morning. And this rejection is after He has given and has done so much for each one of us, as we have been reviewing two Sunday’s ago and this Sunday and as we have been hearing on our Wednesday mid-week services.
I do not want to sound like a clanging cymbal or a noise gong, but I must reiterate, our time on this earth is short. Our time on this earth is fast and fleeting. And, especially compared to eternity, our time on this earth is nothing. And so I would encourage you, move your eyes and your focus off this world and the things of this world. Instead, move your eyes to focus on what lays ahead, on the goal of eternal life. And then, with the Lord’s help, motivation and prompting, do everything to make sure you are ready. Ladies and gentlemen, I encourage you, I urge you, I exhort you to be given the gifts as the Lord gives them!
In a moment we will confess our faith, our faith as Christians, using the Apostle’s Creed. This is our statement of what we believe. This is our statement which guides our faith life and faith walk. My pray continues to be that God will continue to give to you all the good gifts and blessings He has to give through the very means He has to give them, most especially His forgiveness and strengthening of faith, so that in the end, when we pass on to Him, or when He comes to us, we may all together, with all the saints who have gone on before us, stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Last week we followed along as the angel, the pre-incarnate Christ, Jesus Himself in bodily form before His birth as a man came to reiterate His covenant with Abram whose name He changed to Abraham. This week we hear the angel announce to Zechariah that Elizabeth would have a son who would be the one who would make straight the way for the Savior of the world.
This evening we begin with the angels announcement to Zechariah. So, what do we know about Zechariah and Elizabeth? What is it that makes them so special that they should be the parents of the forerunner of the Savior? Our text tells us that they were both were descendants of Aaron (v. 5). That simply means that they were a part of the family of priests who cared for the Lord’s temple. We would probably all agree that is not something that would necessarily make them worthy to be a part of God’s plan of salvation.
We know that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the sight of God (v. 6), our text says that they were “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” They both observed the Lord’s commandments and regulations without fault. Yet, again we would probably all agree that still is not something that would necessarily make them worthy to be a part of God’s plan of salvation.
And we know that they had no children (v.7). This being without children was a sign of being cursed by God which would definitely rule out their being worth of having a part in God’s plan of salvation. Adding insult to injury, our text goes on to state the fact that they were both past child bearing years. As we look at these facts about Zechariah and Elizabeth we can see that there really was nothing on their part, that made them worthy to be a part of God’s plan of salvation. And we see that in and of themselves, it seems impossible that they would have any part. But, that is the beauty of the whole arrangement of God’s plan, for you see, God does not do things according to our own reason and logic. God chooses and uses the people He does to show that He is the one who is in control, that He is the one doing the choosing, indeed, giving His gifts when and where He pleases regardless of the one being given to, and so praise and glory are given to Him alone.
We might say that Zechariah and Elizabeth are a microcosm of our own lives. Certainly we are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness and there is nothing in us deserving of what our Lord promised and was about to bring to fulfillment, the sending of the one who would take care of the punishment for our sins. Even though we are quite unworthy, yet it is by God’s grace that we too are chosen and saved.
We know that Zechariah and Elizabeth did not deserve what they were given, that is why it was given to them by grace. By God’s grace He chose them to have a part in His plan of salvation. With that fact established, let us move on to, what happened in the temple? First we are told that “coincidentally” Zechariah was chosen, by lot to serve in the temple. We know there is no such thing as a coincidence and we know that it was by the Lord’s hand (v.8,9) as He directed the choosing of the lot, that he was chosen for service.
While in the temple the angel, Gabriel, appeared to him (v. 11-12). Gabriel announced something that was humanly impossible was about to happen. He announced that Elizabeth would give birth to a son (v. 13-17). Zechariah and Elizabeth, though old and she being barren, would have a son.
To this announcement Zechariah shows his skepticism (v. 18). And here we will notice a difference between how Zechariah questioned the angel compared to, when next week we hear, Mary who asks questions of the same angel. Zechariah shows his true skepticism. He wants proof. He is old. Elizabeth is old. He cannot believe what the angels says and so he wants concrete proof that what the angel is announcing is true. Does not this remind us of why God tells us to have faith as a child, since children have not yet developed the skepticism that we adults have.
In response to his skepticism, Gabriel announces a sign (v. 19-20). The sign, the concrete evidence, the proof was that Zechariah would not be able to speak until the words which he spoke would come true, in other words, until the baby was born and named, Zechariah would be dumb, unable to speak.
When Zechariah finally came out of the temple, after what must have been quite a delay as we are told the people were waiting and wondering at his delay, since he was unable to speak the people realized that something had happened. Many believed he had seen a vision. It must have been quite frustrating for Zechariah to not be able to speak as he attempted to make signs and yet they did not understand.
So, our text tells us that Zechariah finished his work for the day, and for the week (v. 21-24) and then he went home. We are told that Elizabeth became pregnant according to the word of the Lord (v. 24). And we are told that Elizabeth hid herself (v. 25). She hid herself because in her great joy of no longer being barren she did not want people to continue to look at her with their looks of pity on her, because of her barrenness. She hid herself until she was showing because she knew if she did tell people that she was pregnant they would more than likely not believe, after all she was beyond child bearing years. Finally, after she began to show that she was pregnant she did show herself so they would not look upon her with pity any longer.
This evening we hear the beginning of the end. We hear the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We hear the beginning of the promise of the birth of the way preparer for the Savior.
This evening we hear how God is intervening in human history to fulfill His promise. God is intervening with the preparations for the coming Messiah and as we will see He is intervening by being born in human flesh to give His life for the world. And yes we are seeing the beginning of the Kingdom of God entering the world, that is that as Jesus is born so He ushers in the last days. Yes, we are living in the last days as the events bring the last days to their beginning.
This evening we also hear how, with God, all things are possible. We may have a hard time understanding and believing the events that are being described and that are about to take place, but their taking place is not dependent on our belief. I remember seeing a church sign once that said, “Miracles happen to those who believe.” I wanted so bad to stop and correct their sign, to make it true. The person who put up the sign should have stopped after the second word, “Miracles happen.” They happen, not because you and I believe they happen, they happen because God makes them happen, when and where He pleases. Yes, all things are possible with God.
This evening we continue what we began two Sundays ago, preparing ourselves for our Christmas celebration as we get ourselves ready for the birth of the one who will prepare the way for the Savior, namely the birth of John the Baptist. We get ourselves ready as we bring to mind all those passages of promise that are beginning to be fulfilled. We get ourselves ready as we see the beginning of the end because it is Jesus who ushers in the end times. May the Lord continue to prepare your hearts and minds for the celebration of His Son. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Last week we began our new Church Year with the first Sunday in Advent. Advent, the season we prepare ourselves for our celebration of the coming of the One Promised, the Messiah in Hebrew, the Christ in Greek. Last week we began preparing ourselves by talking about what God has done for us and what He continues to do for us, that is, gives us gifts and blessings, indeed He lavishly pours out on us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give; faith, forgiveness, life and salvation and He does this pouring out through His means of Grace; His Word and Sacraments. Even so this morning, this Second Sunday in Advent we continue to talk about what God has done and what He continues to do for us, that is, God freely and abundantly gives us all His good gifts and blessings.
The greatest blessing our Lord has given to us is the blessing of His Son, Jesus, born in human flesh. Our text describes Him as the shoot from the stump, we read, “1There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (v. 1-2). The stump of Jesse that our text is talking about is the fallen kingdom of Israel. Israel had once been a great kingdom. It was once mighty David’s kingdom and all its glory was known throughout the known world. It was once wise Solomon’s kingdom, where people came to marvel at the wisdom the Lord had given to Solomon. But because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, the Lord allowed for this great kingdom to be overthrown and the people sent into exile. By the time of Jesus there was no kingdom of Israel, merely scattered Israelites.
Isaiah prophecies that Jesus will be the little shoot which will come from this chopped down tree stump. He will come in the sevenfold spirit; the spirit of the Lord, because He is true God; the spirit of wisdom, because as God He is all knowing; the spirit of understanding in all things; the spirit of counsel and of power; the spirit of knowledge, because He is familiar with all the mysteries of God; and with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.
Jesus will also come as ruler to judge the world as we read picking up at verse three, “3And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (v. 3-5).” It is interesting that Jesus will not judge by what He sees or by what He hears. Jesus will not judge by what is shown on the outside of a person, nor by what He has heard about a person, rather He will judge by what He knows is in our hearts.
Jesus will judge in righteousness, because He alone knows what is true righteousness. Having Himself come as a poor man, He will judge with equity. He will judge the righteous to heaven and the wicked to eternal life in hell.
At His second coming, following the judgement, the believer will have life in heaven as described as “6The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (v. 6-9).
Isaiah’s words describe heaven as a place of peaceful coexistence. Heaven will be similar to how it was in the Garden of Eden before the fall into sin. Heaven will be a place where there are no enemies between animals, nor between humans and animals. Heaven will be a place where there will be no sin. Heaven will be complete and perfect peace. Heaven will be a place filled with the knowledge and fear of the Lord. There will be no unanswered questions in heaven. Heaven will be a place where we will live in constant communion and awe of our Heavenly Father.
Heaven is the place to which Jesus will come to take all who believe in Him as we read, “10In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (v. 10). Heaven will be a place for all believers from all nations. Jesus did not die just for some people. He died for all people, of all nations, of all tribes, of all cultures. He died for all people of all places of all times. By grace, through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross, all believers of all nations will be saved.
Heaven is a glorious place. Heaven is a place that is filled with the love and grace of God. It is a place, beyond all human imagining and understanding.
What does this mean? During the season of Advent we prepare ourselves for an event that took place over two thousand years ago, the birth of our Savior, God in flesh, the Messiah, even Jesus. We prepare ourselves to celebrate this most precious and wonderful gift from God. Indeed, God is so gracious and loves us so much and we see His love for us in how He lavishes us with all His good gifts and blessings. As we remember, we were born with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing and so nothing is truly ours, although someone did once suggest that we do have sin which is ours and ours alone. Thanks be to God for His abundant forgiveness. As we prepare to celebrate God’s greatest gift of His Son who paid for our forgiveness, and the faith He gives to believe in His Son, perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves of all the other good gifts and blessings He so free and graciously gives to us. When it comes to the blessings God has given most certainly we include those that we confess in the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creek, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”
As we approach what has been dubbed by some as the Gift Giving Season, it is easy to lament all that we do not have, as some are want to do. We could spend the day looking at the lives of the rich and famous and think, boy, what I would not do to live like that, or we could spend the day counting all the blessings that we do have. You can always find someone who has it better than you so you can say, if only I had it that good. But you can always find someone one who has it worse than you. Take some time this week to sit down and count your blessings. We just named a few, clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home and so on. Once you get started I am sure you can come up with quite an extensive list.
When it comes to the blessings God gives we also confess that, “He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” Yes, defense from danger and protection from evil is a great blessing. How often do we not see the angel that is watching over and guarding us when we have an accident of one kind or another. All those near misses are indeed the hand of God watching over and protecting us.
God does this, supplies us will all that we need, not because He has to, but because He wants to that is why we also confess that, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” We really do not deserve all that God gives to us. We really are entitled to nothing. If we are entitled to anything, it would be to eternal life in hell, because we are sinful human beings. Praise the Lord that He gives to us what He gives to us because of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.
And finally we confess that all we can do is to respond to all that He has done for us as we confess, “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.” Here again, as I said last week, I do not like the word duty, because that word implies something that we have to do. I prefer the word privilege. For all this it is my privilege to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. It is a privilege that is given to Christians alone. Unbelievers do not know God. They do not know that God gives them all that they have and need. They do not acknowledge God’s good gifts and blessings. They cannot respond because they do not know Him.
Last week we began preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of the Savior. We were reminded that just as God kept His first promise to send a Savior so He will keep His promise to come again. We were reminded that Jesus’ birth ushered in the Kingdom of God, so that we are living in the Kingdom of God, that is we are living in the last days. We were reminded that each day we live brings us one day closer to His return or our going to Him. Last week we were remind of all good gifts and blessings given to us by God; gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, and of keeping us in faith.
Today we come to understand that our Lord loves us so much that He gives us all things even and especially those things we need for our body and life, which also includes our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Today we are reminded of God’s promise that from the fallen family of the great Kings of Israel God raised up the promised Messiah, so indeed as we are His fallen children He raises us up in forgiveness of sins. As we see, God blesses us so much because He loves us so much. Finally we might add, that our blessings do include all that we need. Notice, I did not say all that we want. God knows what we need and He gives us what we need when we need it according to His good and gracious will. Our response is simply to praise the Lord for His good gifts and blessings. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
This year during the Wednesday evenings of Advent we will hear about the role the angels played in the history of Christmas. This week we will follow along and hear the angel, even Jesus Himself reiterate His covenant with Abram to be the father of the Savior of the world. Next week we will hear the angel announce to Zechariah that Elizabeth would have a son who would be the one who would make straight the way for the Savior of the world. The following week we will hear the angel announce to the young virgin, Mary, that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world. In week four, an extra week this year as we usually only have three Advent services, but with Christmas on Sunday we will add a forth Advent service the Wednesday before Christmas, we will hear the angel announce to Joseph that Mary’s baby is the Son of God and that it is okay for him to go ahead with his marriage to her. On Christmas Eve we will hear the angel announce the good news of the Savior’s birth to the shepherds, and on Christmas day we will again hear the good news that God has come into the world in human flesh to save the world.
In order to get to the work of the angels during this Advent season we have to go back to the first work of the angels or rather the giving and reiterating of the covenant which brings us to the work of the angels during this time of preparation for the birth of the one being promised. Indeed, in Genesis three God has already promised Adam and Eve and all mankind that He would send a Savior, a Messiah even a Christ to save all people. After the flood God reiterated His promise of a Savior to Noah and on down to God calling Abram to be the one through whom the Savior would be born. In the verses before our text we have an angel appear to Abram, yet we are also told that this is the Lord who appears to Abram. Thus, we describe what we are seeing is that the angel who appears to Abram is what we describe as the pre-incarnate Christ, that is this is Jesus before His conception and birth as a man, in bodily form.
God appeared to Abram in order to reiterate the covenant He first made in Eden before there was a Jew or Gentile. The promise by God first given in Genesis is that God “will put enmity between [Satan] and the woman, and between [Satan’s] offspring” all the followers of the Devil, “and her offspring” in particular the Savior, Jesus, “he,” Jesus, “shall bruise your head” that is Jesus will deal a complete death blow to Satan crushing his head, “and you shall bruise his hell,” that in the process of Jesus utterly defeating Satan Jesus will be hurt, He will have His heel bruised, He will die on the cross, not an eternal death blow, but a physical death blow defeating Satan.
The covenant made in the Garden of Eden was a covenant that God made with Adam and Eve and all people. It was a covenant that God would carry out. As for Adam and Eve and all people, their part in the covenant was only to be saved. Thus, as God reiterates His covenant with Abram we see that it always was and is a covenant of grace through faith. God is the one acting and we are the ones being acted on, being given salvation.
When God speaks and reiterates His covenant with Abram He adds the earthly part of the covenant, that is He adds certain physical earthly blessings to His covenant, and as we will hear these extra blessings come with a condition. The spiritual blessings have no condition, except faith which is given, but the physical blessings do have certain condition as we will see.
God’s promise is that He will make Abram a great nation, that is Abram will have many children, grand children, great grand children and so on. From one of his descendants, from one of his children, grand children, or great grand children the Savior of the world would be born. God’s promise is that He will give Abram and his descendants a land. This promise makes sense because a great nation will need a place to live and so God promises a place to live. Again, then is reiterated the promise, the spiritual promise that the Savior of all people would be born through Abram’s family line.
The condition for these spiritual blessings is faithfulness to the covenant of God, that is faithfulness to God, to worship and serve only the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, the condition of salvation is faith in Jesus alone.
The second part of our text is God’s giving of the sacrament of Circumcision. Circumcision was the sacrament setting apart and marking those who were a part of the covenant. As God would fulfill His promises of physical blessings, giving Abram many children and a land as a nation, so He did not want His people to be like the heathens and pagans that were in the land and that were to be driven from the land, so He gave the sacrament of circumcision to set them a part and mark them, even make them His own.
Today we have been given Holy Baptism as the Sacrament that sets us apart and marks us as a part of the covenant. God’s desire is that we are His people so that we do not look or act like the heathens and pagans of this world. God’s desire is that we live lives as His holy children, as priests in the priesthood of all believers.
And yet, just as was the case with the first promises, so God’s covenant continues to have a condition to it which is faithfulness. Interestingly enough, it is not so much our faithfulness as it is God’s faithfulness which is what saves us. Even in the unfaithfulness of the children of Abram, the Israelites, God has been faithful in keeping His covenant, in sending a Messiah. Even in our unfaithfulness as God’s children, He is faithful in continuing to pour out on us His love and forgiveness.
God’s covenant has always been a covenant that pointed to Jesus. All the ceremonial laws, all the sacrifices, always pointed to the one ultimate, once and for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness.
As history bears out, the children of Abram, that is the children of Israel rejected Jesus, thus unless one believes in Jesus they are outside the covenant. Indeed, the first Christians were those of the children of Israel who did believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Those who did not believe have been and are outside the covenant. Again we see it was and is a covenant of grace and faith.
Even today, God gives us faith, through Holy Baptism, through His Word so that unless one believes they are outside the covenant. Yes, there are even those who attend Divine Service, those who attend without faith who are outside the covenant.
Jesus is the fulfillment, the true Israel in all its sense. Jesus was conceived and born as a human being in order to live a perfect life for us in our place according to God’s command because we cannot and He did live perfectly. Jesus perfectly obeyed all the commandments, never disobeying, never sinning even once.
Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the law and prophets. All the prophecies which pointed to Jesus, all the promises of the coming Savior, Jesus fulfilled completely and perfectly. After fulfilling all things perfectly He took our sins, all our sins, and all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, even those sins we have yet to commit, upon Himself and He suffered and died to pay the price for those sins. He suffered hell for us in our place. And He rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the devil. And now He gives us faith, forgiveness and life!
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate once again, the birth of our Savior, our Messiah, our Christ, we are reminded of God’s promises and their fulfillment in Jesus. And we are reminded of the gifts He continues to pour out on us even today, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Thus, we rejoice and say to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
(This article was included in our church's December Newsletter. This article and the ones following, will be posted each month as printed. I pray they will be helpful to those who wish to share the joy of being Lutheran with others so they might rejoice in the same grace.)
Last month you may recall we began talking about giving an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, that is giving an answer for our faith and why we are Lutheran and why we believe what we believe. This month we continue by giving an answer for our teaching of Holy Baptism, that is why we believe Holy Baptism is so important and why baptizing as soon after birth is so important.
In order to fully understand Holy Baptism as a Sacrament given by God, one must first understand that from which Baptism is given, which is the Sacrament of Circumcision. In the Old Testament God make a person His child through Circumcision. Abram was made a child of God through the outward marking of Circumcision, as were his children and their children and so on. This marking of God upon His people was done at the age of eight days. In circumcision one was marked and made a part of God’s family. Paul lays this out for us in his letter to the Colossians, “8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:8-12). God’s Word to us through Paul today is to encourage us not to be deceived by human reason and tradition which puts more emphasis in the one being made a child of God rather than the One making us a child of God.
After Jesus fulfilled all righteousness in His circumcision at the age of eight days, He then proceeded to give us something new in how we are now to be identified as children of God. As Jesus presented Himself to John the Baptist to be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, He continued to fulfill all righteousness. And just as Jesus was circumcised only once, so He was baptized only once.
Peter connects Holy Baptism to God’s work of washing the world through the waters of the flood as we read, “18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:18-22). Just as God saved Noah and his family in the Ark, keeping them from drowning in the waters of the flood, which cleansed the world, so God saves us through the waters of Holy Baptism, which drowns the Old Adam so that the New Man rises, so Peter pointedly says, “Baptism . . . now saves you.”
Although the Children of Israel broke God’s covenant so that the original earthly part of the covenant is no longer valid, but is null and void (the earthly promises of an earthly land), God never broke His part of the covenant, that part which pointed to the ultimate fulfillment in His heavenly land. So, even though we no longer need to observe the ceremonial law of circumcision, God has given us His Holy Sacrament of Holy Baptism in which He comes to us and gives to us faith, forgiveness and eternal life.
Holy Baptism is not something we do, just as circumcision was not something an eight day old child would do to himself. And certainly if circumcision was done on the eight day, marking one as a part of God’s family, we would understand that Holy Baptism would be done as early as possible marking one as a part of God’s family. Indeed, Jesus says to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), and just as one is a part of a nation at birth, so God would have us become a part of His family at birth or as early as possible.
To point to self when speaking of Holy Baptism is to be deceived by human reason and gives the impression that one can save oneself. Indeed, just as a drowning person cannot save themself, or they would not be drowning, and just as a child cannot choose to be conceived, neither can we choose God or choose to be baptized or choose to save ourselves.
Holy Baptism rightly understood is a gift from God, a Sacrament, which is a sacred act wherein God comes to us, and through the hands of the called and ordained servant of the Lord, the Pastor, He puts water and His name on us, marking us as one of His dear children and a part of His heavenly kingdom. This baptizing need only be done once, because, after all God gets it right the first time. And yet, as we live our daily lives we are often reminded of our baptism (which is why we make the sign of the cross as a reminder) so that we are reminded that we belong to God and He has so many gifts and blessing He desire to pour out on us daily, forgiveness, life and salvation.