Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New Heaven and a New Earth - November 26, 2017 - Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Today is the last Sunday of our present church year. Next week begins a new church year and as always it begins with the season of Advent, of preparation and getting ready to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child and the fulfillment of God’s first promise to send a Messiah. As we have been hearing for the last three Sundays, as we are in the final throws of this church year, so we are reminded of God’s promise of His second coming, the day He would come and gather all the saints and judge the world taking to heaven all believers in Jesus and sending to perdition all those who refuse and reject the gifts He has to give, so we hear even more of God’s Word of warning and encouragement to always be ready because no one knows the day nor the hour of His return.
Our text begins with God speaking through Ezekiel expressing the difference between God, the one true God of all and those that were in charge of Israel (v. l1-16), that is the leaders of Israel, both the government and spiritual leaders. The main difference was in the fact that the rulers of Israel did not really care about the people. They mistreated the people, often enslaved the people or simply neglected them altogether.
On the other hand, God cares for His people. He searches and rescues His people. As He expresses in verse eleven, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” Much like the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to search for the one lost sheep so our Lord searches for us to find us and bring us back into His fold. It is not we who go searching for God, but always it is He who comes searching for us.
Of course, as we hear these words we are reminded of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s care for His sheep in that He will send a Messiah, a Savior, a Christened One, His own Son. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came as the Good shepherd. Jesus came to lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus came as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Indeed, unlike the leaders and rulers of Israel, God cares for His sheep, for His people. He will feed His people. He will watch over them. He will bring back the stray and bind the injured. He will strengthen the weak and the fat and the strong He will destroy. He will feed them in His justice.
Moving on in our text we get a prophetic look into heaven (v. 20-24). God says, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David.” This one shepherd, this servant David points us to the Messiah. The Messiah, first promised in the Garden of Eden, was promised to be born from the line of Judah, from the line of King David. As we hear God’s Word of prophecy we are constantly reminded that although there were many instances of earthly fulfillment to the promises of old, there was the constant pointing to the ultimate, heavenly fulfillment, that of a Savior who would save His people from their sins and who in the end would judge the living and the dead and give eternal life to all who believe.
Jesus is the ultimate son of David, Son of God who would unite all people in heaven. The promise first made in Eden to send a Savior had been fulfilled many times in one civil or political Savior through Israel’s history, in other words there were many times that God would send someone to rescue and save His people from one conquering nation or another. However, God’s promise of a Savior, of a spiritual Savior has only one spiritual fulfillment and this is its fulfillment in Jesus. It was Jesus’ perfect life, His perfect obedience, His perfect suffering and death that brought forgiveness of our sins. His life for our life. With His resurrection He defeated sin, death and the devil.
At His ascension Jesus promised that He would return. His return will be the day of judgement. His return will mean sending unbelievers to their eternal perdition and taking all those who believe in Him to heaven. In heaven He will rule for eternity.
What does this mean? Still today, we face many false teachers in our world. We face false teachers as in those who actually espouse other gods, that is other religions, such as the Muslim faith, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, atheism, agnosticism, and many other religious isms of faith. There are many who would easily misguide and misdirect those who are searching for some meaning to life in all the wrong places.
There are false teachers who misuse and misinterpret the Bible leading many astray through faith in false Messiahs and Christs such as the Jehovah’s Witness and the Mormons as well as many cults and sects as we have seen come and go over the years.
And even in the Christian church there are those who mislead through their misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misguided good intentions, who strive to lead other to believe that their good works might bring them righteousness and favor before God. Thanks be to God that we have His Word, that we can read His Word and that He gives us His Holy Spirit to rightly understand His Word.
God’s desire is to seek the lost. God’s desire is that all people are saved, that all people come to the knowledge of Jesus as the Savior. His desire is carried out through the means He has given to carry His message to others, His means of grace. Through the very Word of God He works to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. Through Holy Baptism He gives faith. Through confession and absolution He gives forgiveness of sins. Through His Holy Supper He gives forgiveness and strengthening of faith.
And we rejoice that through us, his broken and sinful people, working in our vocations, serving God by serving others, as we have the opportunity and as we are asked, so with all gentleness we share His Word with others. And as we share His Word, the Holy Spirit gives us the words to speak and He gives faith, when and where He pleases.
What is this message we are to share. First and foremost as we have been hearing for the third time in three weeks, that is that we need to get ready and be ready because the Lord has promised to return or He will take us to Himself, and either day is probably sooner than We know and sooner than we might imagine.
Thus, we proclaim that Jesus was born and He lived for us. God’s demand is our perfection and because we cannot be perfect, Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place. Jesus actively obeyed all God’s laws and commandments and passively allowed Himself to be crucified.
Jesus was obedient for us. We cannot be obedient. We are disobedient. We sin and often we sin boldly. We break all the commandments and even do so on a daily basis. Left to ourselves we would be eternally lost. But Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place.
After living in perfection, Jesus took our sins, all our sins, our sin of commission, doing the things we should not be doing and our sins of omission, failing to do what we should be doing. He took our sins and then suffered and died for us.
Yet, as we know, death and the grave had no power over Him. On the third day Jesus rose for the dead, for us. Because Jesus rose we know that we too will rise again.
So now back to the message, to the warning and to the encouragement to get ready. We know that it is not we who get ourselves ready but it is God who gets us ready. And He gets us ready through the same means He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith, His means of grace.
God gets us ready as we remember our baptism. We need only to be baptized once yet as we daily remember our baptism we are reminded that we were buried with in His baptism, even drowned, so that we also rise with Him in His resurrection.
God gets us ready through our confession and absolution. As we confess our sins, that is we are sorry for our sins meaning that our desire is not to return to our sin, but go in the opposite direction, we hear God’s most precious and beautiful words, often spoken by the one who stands in the stead and by the command of Jesus, our pastor, as he declares our sins forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
God gets us ready through His Word. Through our own personal and family devotions, through our attendance at Divine Service and Bible Study, through our reading and hearing His Word through these means the Holy Spirit works through that Word to get us ready, to give, strengthen and keep us in faith until Christ comes again.
And God gets us ready through Lord’s Supper. The Lord‘s Supper is His Supper. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He won and paid for our forgiveness on Calvary and now at His table where He is the Host and the Meal He distributes His forgiveness to us. Just as the sinner ate the lamb that was sacrificed so to we eat of the Lamb of God so that He becomes a part of us, so that His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect suffering and death become our perfect suffering and death. And His perfect resurrection become our perfect resurrection.
Today we end our present church year calendar. We are reminded as we well should be constantly reminded that our life on this earth is short, a mere blip on the screen of eternity so that rather than spending, even actually wasting our time focused on this earth we would do well to spend our time getting ready for our more and most important eternity in heaven, where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forever more. Where there will be no more sorrow or tears. no more hunger or thirst and where Jesus will rule in perfect splendor and majesty. Where we will rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vocational Witnessing, An Update

Fifteen years ago you, the members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, helped me work on my Major Applied Project (MAP) for my Doctor of Ministry Degree. The project was titled Developing and Implementing a Lifestyle Evangelism Culture. You may remember that our Sunday morning Bible Class was a part of the course work, and there was a series of bulletin inserts drawing attention to the principles of the thesis.

As is often the case with one’s work and passion, I have continued personal study and thought in this area of Witnessing and Evangelism, which I believe are one in the same, that is that one is a witness of the evangel (Good News). Today I lean more to calling what we do in our lives as vocational evangelism, and I know many of you have heard me use that term especially in Bible Class.

In my personal life I live this concept by serving as the Shepherd of my daughter’s American Heritage Girls Troop and as Chaplin in my sons’ Trail Life USA troop. The principle is that as we live our lives, as we have opportunity, and as we are asked, we are always ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus. The personal difficulty that I have is that God does not always work according to my plans, but He works when and where He pleases. I have had ample opportunities, not only conducting the Sunday services for these groups but also giving a personal answer to those who have asked about the Lutheran Christian faith.

I know there are some in the congregation who are doing the same, giving an answer, and inviting others to “come and see” Jesus in our Divine Service. This vocational evangelism is how a congregation truly grows, that is in our own personal lives living lives as Christians and always being ready to give an answer for the hope that we have. That is why I believe we need to be thinking more in these terms and why I am bringing this update.

Beginning in the new year I have prepared an new set of bulletin inserts bringing before you these principles of vocational evangelism, and I am working on plans to conduct an area Vocational Witness Workshop for a Saturday in February 2018. I have conducted such workshops of congregations in the past, but I plan on updating my material for this workshop. I plan on inviting any and all members from our circuit or surrounding congregations to attend, as well as any from as far as they might want to travel. The workshop will be on a Saturday and will be from a 9 am (8:30 am registration, coffee and donuts) until either noon or shortly after including a light noon meal (sandwich and chips). Anyone interested in being a part of planning and carrying out this workshop, please talk to me (Pastor Bogs).

Finally, please remember, you are the church. You are the priests in the priesthood of all believers. You are witnesses of your faith through your actions, as well as through your words and thoughts. People look at you and decide what Christians are and what a member of your church is like by you (whether you like it or not). Now more than ever, as we are living in the last days and as there are many souls that are not saved, now more than ever is the time to be ready, to give an answer and to invite your unchurched family and friends to “come and see” Jesus. You may be the only person who they know who will invite them.

Remember - November 22, 2017 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: Deuteronomy 8:1-10

In our text for this evening, from the Old Testament reading, we are encouraged by Moses to remember. How fitting this text is as we, on the eve of our National Day of Thanksgiving, take the time, not only to remember but, also to give thanks for all the good gifts and blessings our good Lord has seen fit to bestow upon us, His children. In the spirit and style, if you will, of Moses speaking to the children of Israel, this evening I would encourage you to remember.
Remember . . . remember that God gives us life at conception. This comes through no choice of our own (we do not choose to be conceived and born). This comes through the love of our parents for each other as they reflect God’s love to each other. We thank God for this gift of life at conception and we continue to celebrate His gift of life each and every morning that we awake knowing that each day is a gift from Him. Each day we give Him thanks that He gives us the opportunity to live another day.
God gives life at conception and He gives us new life through His Word and through Holy Baptism. Through His Word and through the waters of Holy Baptism and the putting of His name on us we become His children. He claims us as His own (in the same way that we do not choose to be born, nor do we choose to be given faith through the waters of Holy Baptism or God’s Word). He makes us His children and a part of His kingdom. He gives us forgiveness of sins and puts faith in our hearts. He gives us His Holy Spirit who continues, throughout our lives, to strengthen and keep us in faith until Christ returns.
We might summarize what God has given to us and done for us in Dr. Martin Luther’s words of explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
God has graciously poured out on us more gifts and blessings than we can ever think or imagine or count. He has given us a place to live, a roof over our heads, clothes on our back, shoes on our feet and food on our tables.
God has given us parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers, and an education. He has given people to care for us as well as people for whom we are privileged to care. He has given us all wisdom and knowledge. He has given us the ability to discover and invent so many things which makes life easier.
God has given us gifts, talents and abilities. He gives us these gifts, talents and abilities to use, especially to use in service to Him, for the strengthening of ourselves as well as the extending of His Kingdom. As we use our gifts, talents and abilities to serve and help others, so we are serving and helping the Lord.
God has given us a vocation, a job, a career, a place to work. We are to use the gifts, talents, and abilities He has given us in order to be efficient and productive in our vocation, our job, our career, or wherever we work. And wherever it is that we do work, we are to remember that we are not working for the company or the boss, but we are working for the Lord, using the gifts, talents and abilities He has given us to His glory.
God has given us freedom of religion. We live in a country where we are relatively free to do as we please, to worship as we choose, even to choose to not worship. Certainly we might imagine that we are persecuted, to a degree, perhaps more subtly than anything, yet at this time still, we do not have to die for our faith.
God has given us a land flowing with milk and honey. We live in one of the most, if not the most blessed country and nation in the world. We suffer from the fact that we have to decide which of several articles of clothing and shoes we will wear, which of several brands of food we wish to eat, which brand of automobile to drive and so forth. Compared to many countries, we are rich indeed.
We might summarize what God has given to us and done for us in Dr. Martin Luther’s words of explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, “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. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
But there is more to remember. We are to remember that God has given His Son to be born as one of us. He who was true God, gave up the glory that was His in heaven. He took on human flesh and blood. He was born of a woman. The fulness of the Gospel is in this fact that He lived His life for us in our place so He could be our substitute, trading His life for ours. He suffered temptation as we suffer, even more and yet He did not sin.
We are to remember that God has given His Son to take our sins upon Himself. The purpose for which Jesus came into this world was to live, suffer and die. And He did. He lived a perfect life and then He took all our sins upon Himself and He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. That which we should have suffered, He suffered. God has given His Son the punishment which we deserve. Jesus suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty, hell, for us, in our place. Jesus suffered and died.
Yet, we are also to remember that we do not worship a dead God, but a living God. For Jesus did not stay dead, but God raised Him from the dead. After His ascension, He returned to the right hand of His Father where He is ruling over us, watching over us, interceding for us.
We might summarize what God has given to us and done for us in Dr. Martin Luther’s words of explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
Today we remember . . .we remember that it is our duty or better, I like the word privilege, it is our privilege to give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy does endure forever. And as we have been saying, He is good, He is merciful, He has given us blessings, more than we can count, more than we can think or imagine.
We remember that it is our duty, our privilege to praise the Lord for His good gifts and blessings. We praise Him because He has and continues to give to us from His bounty, not because we are deserving in any way, but because of His great love for us.
We remember that it is our duty, our privilege to rejoice in the Lord for all His benefits to me. What a great God we have. A God who gives to us, expects nothing in return from us, and rejoices in our pouring out our response of praise and thanksgiving and rejoicing through our giving ourselves to Him, through our giving our worship to Him, through our giving of our time, talents and treasure to Him as a way of glorifying Him as He stirs in us to do so.
This evening and tomorrow we remember, we recall all that our Lord gives and we are moved to say, “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever. Amen.”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Let Justice Roll Down - November 12, 2017 - Twenty-third Sun. after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: Amos 5:18-24

Today is the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Today is also the third to the last Sunday of the Church Year. In three weeks this Church Year will end and we will begin a new Church Year. As is the case every year as we reach the end of the year, our Scripture lessons point us to the end times. Our Scripture readings remind us that Jesus is coming again and that we need to be ready. This fact also reminds us that every day we live we move one day closer to the Lord’s return, or, as I have often reminded you, even if the Lord does not return during our life, we will go to Him and we do not know the day or the hour that will happen either, so either way, we need to be ready! It will happen, we will meet the Lord and we need to be ready.
In our text for today, Amos brings word to the children of Israel concerning the day of the Lord, that is, the day of the Lord for Israel. There were those among the Children of Israel who were looking for the day the Lord would return, not that He would return as a spiritual Savior, but that He would return to overthrow their captors and make them their own nation again. They thought it was their birthright that would bring them this earthly salvation, in other words they believed that God’s promise had nothing to do with their faith, only with their being born as children of Israel. So they believed that the day the Lord would come would be the day the Lord would judge those who were not from the children of Israel, condemning them and saving those who were born as Israelites.
So, they called on the Lord to deliver them from the nations. Notice that their hope was not in the One the Lord promised to send. Their hope was not in the promised Savior, the promised Messiah, rather their hope was in themselves. Their hope was not in forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but in an earthly kingdom. Their hope was in what they believed to be their birthright. Their hope was in their being children of Israel. And so, in this hope, they called on the Lord to deliver them. They called on the Lord to come and judge their enemies.
The Lord’s response to their call for judgement came though Amos. Through Amos the Lord reminded them that they really were not His people because of their lack of faith. Certainly there were those who exemplified an outward show of faith, that is they went through the motions, offering sacrifices, burnt offerings and the like, but their hearts were far from the Lord. The Lord was more interested in their having hearts of faith than in their outward show of following ceremonial rites.
And so, through the prophet Amos, the Lord proclaims that the day of the Lord would come and it would bring judgement and not necessarily the kind the people would be looking for. The judgement would be on those faithless Israelites.
Fast forward to today, November 12, 2017. We are looking forward to the Day of the Lord, that is we are looking forward to the day the Lord will return, the day of judgement. We know the Lord will return. Jesus fulfilled God’s first promise to come to earth. He fulfilled that promise by being born as a baby in Bethlehem. He fulfilled all God’s promises concerning the Savior He would send. He fulfilled all God’s law perfectly. He took the sins of all people, including our sins, our sins of omission, failing to do what God would have us to do and our sins of commission, doing those things God commands us not to do, He took all our sins upon Himself. He paid the price, He suffered the eternal death penalty for us and He died on the cross. Yet, death and the grave had no power over Him as He rose on the third day.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, from where He descended to come to earth, He promised He would return on the day of judgement. We know, we believe, we have confidence that as He kept His first promise to come and take care of our sins, so He will keep this promise and He will return on the last day, on the day of judgement to take us and all believers to heaven.
As Christians, then, we look forward, in faith to that day of judgement. Or, as we have been saying, we can look forward to our own passing because we do not need to fear either. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us, we do not need to fear either our own death or the Lord’s return.
However, for those who do not believe, they do not look forward either to their own passing or to the Lord’s return, rather they show their unbelief in believing the Lord will not return. They show their unbelief in not being ready.
The fact is, the truth is, ready or not, the day of the Lord will bring judgement. Just as Jesus first coming brought judgement even to many of the children of Israel, especially to those who failed to look for a spiritual Savior, so Jesus second coming will bring judgement for those who fail to believe in Jesus as Savior. For those who do not believe they will receive eternal spiritual death in hell. For those who do believe they, we, you and I will receive eternal life in heaven.
What Does This Mean? First and foremost, our text for this morning, all our lessons for today, our lessons for the next three weeks will remind us that we will meet the Lord. We will meet the Lord, either at our own passing or at His return. We will meet the Lord, it will happen, and I would suggest that it will happen sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. Thus, it is important, it is imperative that we are ready.
Our text for this morning reminds us that our salvation is not determined by a birthright. Just as being born as a child of Israel did not and still today does not save a person, so we are not saved simply because we are born from a certain line of descent. Being born of Christian parents will not save us. Having our name on a church membership list will not save us, nor will simply being in church on any number of Sundays.
Our text for this morning reminds us that the Lord takes no delight in outward religion. Being a good person is good, but it will not save anyone. Doing good things is good, but it will not save you. Trying not to sin, trying to be like a saint or even to be like Jesus, all these are admirable, but they will save no one.
The Lord’s desire is to have us, to have all of us, our heart, mind, body, soul and spirit. As we learned in the close of the commandments, God is a jealous God that is He demands that we worship Him and Him alone, that we have no other God’s before Him. God does not want us just on Sunday mornings. He does want us on Sunday mornings, but not just on Sunday mornings. He does not want us just to be in divine service with our minds wondering elsewhere, He want us to be in divine service engaged in listening and in being given the gifts He has to give. God does not want us just to have our names on a membership list of some congregation, He wants us, heart, mind, body, soul and spirit. It is only as He has us, all of us that all these other things will happen.
Actually, we might well say, God does not want anything from us, at least as if we are giving something to Him thinking that He is in need of something from us. God does not need anything from us as if we have anything to offer that He does not have already. God want us, all of us. And unless the Lord has us, we are not saved.
Thanks be to God that He covers us on this as well. It is the Lord who calls us to faith, who gives us faith, who gives us forgiveness of sins, forgiveness earned for us by His Son. He gives us life, and He gets us ready. He does this through the very means He has given us to get us ready, His means of grace. I cannot stress this enough, it is only as we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace that our Lord comes to us to get us ready and to keep us ready, to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
This morning we are reminded once again, as we will be reminded again next week and week after, that we are to be always ready and watchful. Jesus’ story of the ten virgins in our Gospel reading are His Words of encouragement to us to be watchful and to be ready. We do not know when the Lord will return. We do not know when our last hour on this earth will be and when we will pass on and go to Him. All we really know is that it will happen. And as I have said before it will happen sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine.
Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson are words of encouragement as well. Paul’s words give us hope, that is a certainty concerning our eternal life. For, even if we pass on before the Lord returns, we need to be ready. And should we be alive when the Lord returns, we should be ready. There is salvation to all those who believe, but only to those who believe, that is only to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior. We have this hope, we have this confidence and Paul urges us to encourage one another with these words.
To summarize our reading for this morning, these are the Lord’s Words. The Lord, through the prophet Amos warns the children of Israel and us for that matter, that His desire is faith and faithfulness not simply an appearance of faith through hypocritical worship. The Lord’s Words, especially to us, are that we are not saved simply because we have our names on a church membership role, nor because we are born of Christian parents of a certain family line, God’s desire is not that we simply attend divine service, in a thoughtless manner, rather His desire is that we, with our whole selves and our whole being engage in divine service, being given the gifts God has to give and responding in faith and living lives as priest in the priesthood of all believers, living lives as a living sacrifice to the Lord. God has given His all for us in the death of Jesus for us for the forgiveness of our sins so that we might have eternal life. In response, God wants us, all of us. My prayer is that the Lord will accomplish His desire. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Washed in the Blood of the Lamb - November 5, 2017 - All Saints’ Day (Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost) - Text: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17

Although today is the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, because All Saints Day was actually last Wednesday, this morning we take the time to celebrate All Saints Day. Please understand that when we celebrate all saints day, we are not worshiping, nor praising all the saints who have gone on before us, instead we are placing their lives before us as examples of how we are to live our lives, that is that we are to live lives of faith so that others see our faith and give praise to God for our faith as well. Remember, as Lutherans we understand that we are at the same time sinners and saints. By faith in Jesus Christ, faith given to us at our Baptism or faith given to us through the Word of God, we are redeemed, we have been purchased, we are saved, yes, we are saints. At the same time, while we remain on this earth we continue to sin and so we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Thus we understand, we believe, teach and confess that we are at the same time sinner saints.
As we celebrate All Saints day, this morning we continue from last week, our look into heaven, that is we continue in the book of Revelation. Revelation is a look into heaven and a look into what our last days on earth and our first days in heaven will be like. As we look into heaven we see, again, the enumerable number of people in heaven. We see them wearing white robes and holding palm branches. We hear them sing. We see how, even John, is unable to answer the question from God concerning what he is seeing, so he refers the question back to God answering, “Sir, you know.” John’s answer reminds us that we do not need to know all the answers to all the questions about the Bible, rather we need to realize that God is so much bigger than we are and He does know all the answers. Which in turn encourages us to continue steadfast in the Apostles’ Doctrine to learn more about Him and be strengthened in our faith.
Our text begins with John telling us that he sees “a great multitude that no one could number.” These words remind us that the reference to 144,000 which is the number Revelation speaks about being the number in heaven, this number is not a counting figure, not an actual number one can count, but it is a symbolic figure. In this reference we have 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, meaning this is in reference to the complete number of Old Testament believers. However, we may also notice that not all the tribes of Israel are included in this numbering. In the New Testament we are reminded that all who believe in Jesus are indeed children of Abraham and are a part of the new, heavenly Israel. Thus, we might best understand this 144,000 as the complete number of Old and New Testament believers in the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, that is believers in Jesus. What John is seeing is a great multitude, all believers who ever lived, from Old and New Testament times. Everyone who believes in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is included in the great multitude, and in the 144,000. We, you and I, are included in that 144,000.
Their song, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v. 10b) reminds us that salvation is given by God to those who believe. Notice who is doing what? Salvation is not something we get, in other words we do not “get saved”. Salvation is not something we earn, there is no price we could pay to earn it, as a matter of fact we might reminder ourselves that the wages of sin is death so that the price for sin is human death. Salvation is not something we claim for ourselves, as if our making such a claim would actually make it ours. Salvation belongs to God. Our salvation was earned by Him and it is given out by Him to us. It is given by His grace through faith in Jesus. God is the one doing the doing and we are the ones being done to. God is the one giving the faith and we are the ones being given to.
The song of the great multitude is followed by a song by the angels, elders and four living creatures, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (v. 12). We are told that “they fell down on their faces before the throne.” They fell down in fear, in awe and in respect. They fell down in worship. In the Old Testament we are often told of people falling prostrate before the Lord, or a king or whoever. To fall prostrate means to fall on your face, completely flat, face down on the ground. This is a posture of complete submission. Thus, even the angels, elders and four living creatures recognize Jesus as Lord and fall down in complete submission to Him.
They worshiped and said “Amen!” They spoke the word which reminds us that God is faithful. In His faithfulness He remembered His promise to send a Savior, Christ the Lord. In His faithfulness Jesus was born as a baby, a human being, as one of us. In His faithfulness Jesus lived a perfect life. He obeyed all God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all God’s commands, perfectly. In His faithfulness He lived His life for us, as our substitute. In His faithfulness Jesus took all our sins upon Himself. In His faithfulness Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross, suffering the price for our sins. In His faithfulness Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, to give us faith, and to keep us in faith until He comes again.
They sing a sevenfold song of praise. This sevenfold song is very similar to their previous sevenfold chorus of praise and it is a song of complete praise.
John is then questioned by one of the elders. The elder asks, “These in the white robes—who are they, and where did they come from”(v. 12-17)? John rightly answers, “Sir, you know.” John does not know and so he turns the question back to the man who asked so that he might get an answer. The answer is that they are those who have suffered for their faith. The word that is used for tribulation is the same word that Jesus used when He said that we would have trouble in this world, but we are to take heart, because He has overcome the world. This trouble, this tribulation that we suffer is not some new thousand year reign of trouble as some would suppose. No, this tribulation is what we have suffered since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. To be a Christian means that you inevitably suffer trials and tribulations.
You might think of it this way, the devil does not spend time working on those he already has. He spends his time working on those he does not have. Which means that if you are not having troubles in this world, if you are not having tribulation, if you are not suffering from the trials and tribulations of the devil you might want to take a hard look at yourself to make sure that he does not have you already [smile :)]. And this does not mean the troubles, the trials and tribulations we bring on ourselves, which we do because of our sinful nature. Indeed, a part of our sinner nature is that we do sin and bring trouble on ourselves. We constantly break all the commandments and most our favorite, the one about bear false witness against our neighbor. Perhaps if we might constantly remind ourselves that God is with us so that He sees all we do and hears all we say, maybe we might check our lives, our thoughts, our words and our actions a little better.
Moving on, the elder continues by saying that these are they who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” It is faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, the shedding of His blood that brings the white robes of righteousness. By faith in Jesus, we stand before God in His perfection, washed in His blood, robed in His white robes of righteousness.
“Therefore,” the elder says, meaning, as a result of Jesus’ redeeming work, because Jesus shed His blood on the cross, by faith in Him, faith given by God, therefore, salvation comes to those who believe. The perfect bliss of the redeemed people of God is described in the next series of ten statements. Remember too, that the number ten is the number of completeness and so we are reminded by these ten statements that there is complete release from all evil and complete fullness of joy which is ours, given to us by God.
The first three lines describe the blessedness of the redeemed who stand in the presence of God spending their days and nights in service to Him. Their service is a worship service, a time spent in praise and adoration to Jesus. While we are on earth it is most important and necessary that we come to the Lord’s House, to divine service first and foremost to be given to by God. It is only as we are given to by God that we can respond with lives of faith. In heaven we will be perfected and so we will be able to offer a service of worship, worthy of our Creator God.
The next four lines speak about the freedom we Christians will have in heaven from the effects of sin. The curse which was placed on all creation in the Garden of Eden is now broken. In heaven there is no hunger, no thirst, no being beaten down by the sun. In heaven there is no sorrow or sadness, only joy and rejoicing. In heaven we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forever.
The final three lines describe heaven in positive terms. We are reminded first that Jesus is the Good Shepherd as John reminds us in His Gospel. Jesus compares us to His sheep and He is our Shepherd. He leads us beside the quiet waters as we read in the Psalms. Jesus is the living water. We are Baptized into faith through water. We need water to live. Jesus is that living water for us. And with God there will be no suffering, no more tears. Heaven is a place of complete and unending joy.
This morning we get another glimpse of heaven. We are reminded that heaven is a gift, given by God, earned by Jesus’ death on the cross and the shedding of His blood. We are reminded that heaven is a place of forever joy. And we are reminded that heaven is a place of forever worship.
The question we might ask ourselves this week is “are we ready?” If you ask young people “are you ready to go to heaven?” Many times you will get the answer, “Yes, I am ready, but I would rather grow up before I go.” How often do we find ourselves answering in like manner. “I think I am ready for Jesus to come again, but I would rather get done doing the things I think I need to do here on earth.” I think that begs the question even more. Are we ready? Are we ready if we believe that there is more for us to do on this earth than to get ourselves ready for Jesus’ to come? Or to get ourselves ready for our going to Him, which might be sooner than His coming to us. And maybe we need to spend time getting others ready as well. I wonder if we are ready as we continue to keep our focus on the things of this world instead of on things heavenward.
How do we get ourselves ready? We get ourselves ready by making regular and diligent use of those means through which our Lord gives to us and uses to get us ready, His means of grace. In other words, it is not so much we who get ourselves ready, but it is the Lord who gets us ready. He gets us ready by our remembering our Baptism. He gets us ready by our confessing our sins and hearing His most beautify words of forgiveness. He gets us ready by our reading His Word, by our having personal and family devotions, by our being in divine service and Bible Class. He gets us ready as we come to His table, where He is the host and the meal, where He offers and gives to us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins and for strengthening of faith.
I know I have shared this antidote with you before, but it bears repeating. When I was attending the Seminary, one of my classes followed chapel. Every morning we had chapel at 9 a.m. It was a short service in which we heard the Word of God and sang some hymns. Our professor noticed that some of the men from our class were not making it to chapel, but were missing for some reason. He chastened us one morning by using the following words, “Gentlemen, receive the gifts.” So, too, I come to you and as I come to you I ask you to share these words with those who are not here. Ladies and gentlemen, receive the gifts. Because it is only through the gifts God gives, the gifts of His Word and Sacraments that He gives us forgiveness and that He can prepare us for Jesus’ coming and/or our going to Him. And now more than ever is the time to be prepared. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.