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11/28/18 "Jesus Comes With Proof"

“The angel answered, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”  Luke 1:19-20; Mid Week Advent 1; December 3, 2006

 

 

Doubt…  Who doesn’t have doubt in their lives?  I suspect that it is almost as much a part of human life as needing sleep, getting hungry, or being thirsty.  And yet it is not.  It is not a basic need of life.  At root it is distrust, and even more when connected with faith, it is distrust of God.  For that reason, Martin Luther in a sermon called doubt “a most damnable sin.”

 

Doubt is a part of our sinful flesh that we do not like to own up to, because it is such a part of our life, like worry or fear.  To the point that some of us will brush it off with statements like, “That’s just the way I am.” Or the finger pointing to try to make themselves feel better, “He/She does it too.”  And that is true, so very true.  Remember some of the greats of our faith who doubted God—Abraham, Sarah, Thomas.  You may rank right up there with the best of them.  And yet that doesn’t make it any better.  This is part of  the condition that St. Paul wrote about in Romans 7—“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to god—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

So tonight, we study how Jesus comes to those who doubt, bringing the proof of God’s mercy.  And we are given the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Who among us would not feel sympathetic towards this lovely couple.  Even our text designates them as upright and even blameless…a way that the Bible designates people with great faith.  And yet, they were without the one thing they so desperately wanted.  They wanted a child.  They had prayed for years and years and yet no child.  Why?  What had they done wrong?  Please!  You can just hear those prayers—“Please, I beg you, Lord!  Give us a child!  And yet nothing happened.

 

And the years went on, and on, and on! And they passed by, past the time that Elizabeth could even have children.  Now it was no longer physically possible…they thought.  Now it was over.  They would go on with their life.  They would serve the Lord, but there was always something missing, and the question was still there in the back of their minds.  For these past 25 years, “Did God really hear our prayers?” (Oh yes, yes indeed, Elizabeth and Zechariah.)

 

Then came the time that Zechariah was called upon to fulfill and obligation of his birth.  He was given the special right of serving at the altar of incense in the Holy Place of the Temple.  This was, indeed, a special privilege that happened only a few times in a person’s life.  As a matter of fact, some Bible scholars suggest that this may have happened only once in a person’s life.  What a privilege God has given Zechariah, to be able to serve in His glorious temple in Jerusalem.

There in Jerusalem, Zechariah would go to that glorious Temple, which is God’s house to serve in this once in a lifetime way.  He would be allowed to go into the Holy Place, while the people waited outside.  He would light the incense on fire and the smoke would go up to God as a pleasing aroma.  He would pray for the people outside.  He would pray for the nation of Israel, for the sake of the people, for homes and families, for the sick and the bereaved, much like we would today.  He would pray prayers of thanksgiving, and probably prayers for his own life as well.

 

And then the unthinkable happened.  There on the right side of the altar was an angel. Fear struck Zechariah.  First of all, Zechariah was supposed to be alone…alone with his feelings…alone with God.  And second this being, this angel was different.  Something about him identified him as an angel.  And third, He seemed so intent on speaking to him.  He gazed at Zechariah.  What would this angel want with him?  Zechariah, this guy from the hill country.  Little, insignificant Zechariah? 

 

Do not be afraid Zechariah your prayer has been heard. Wow, he knows my name! He probably thought.  What prayer?  I just said many prayers.  Was it the one that I just asked about my dear Elizabeth?  “Your wife, Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.”  What did you say?  It can’t be…Physically impossible!  Yet, tell me about that child.  “He will be a delight, many will rejoice because of this birth. He will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah---to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Yeah right!  Sounds good.  But how can I be sure of this?

I want proof!  I’ve been waiting all of these years…I am an old man…give me some proof.  Oh, proof you want Zechariah.  Okay. 

 

Well, here we go!  The angel said, perhaps with a glare in his eyes, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God.”  Now these are very significant words to a devout believer like Zechariah.  Gabriel, the angel mentioned in the prophet Daniel.  Gabriel the angel who explained to Daniel the great mysteries of God.  Gabriel, the mighty one, who stands in the presence of God was now speaking to him.  But, no longer was he speaking calmly, or joyfully.  He spoke with righteous anger because Zechariah had doubted and not believed. “And now Zechariah, you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens.”

 

So for nine months Zechariah struggled with his doubts.  Perhaps you, dear people of God can understand.  Do you struggle with your doubts as well?  Maybe they are doubts like Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Does God really hear my prayers.  I have been praying these prayers so long.  Does he really listen?  Does He care? I have been stuck with this problem, this difficulty, for so long.

 

Two years ago when our mission team went down to Guatemala for the first time, one Guatemalan teenager put it this way…”I struggle with the doubt whether Christianity is really worth it.”  This was a young man who experienced crime and poverty in ways that we could never really imagine.  He saw that those who were in gangs, and in a life of crime were becoming rich.  And he wondered.  Perhaps we wonder too.

 

In the book of Romans, St. Paul writes, “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor?”   For nine months Zechariah waited and he watched.  He watched as Elizabeth became pregnant.  He watched as the baby inside of her grew.  And as he watched his doubts were dispelled.

Just imagine when that child was born and they wondered what to name that child.  How confident that once silent voice of Zechariah was—“His name is John.”

 

John, which means “Gift of the Lord.” He was that for sure.  This child was the forerunner of the Lord, Himself.  His job was to point people to Jesus, the Savior of the World.  As we wait and watch and study.  Out doubts are also dispelled.

 

Although the inclination to doubt will always be there in this life.  Jesus comes to help us overcome.  A wise person once said about the Christian faith, “Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.”  I like that, because God has this way of always proving this faith.  Zechariah learned this.  So did the apostle Paul who said, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

11/21/18 "Consider What God Has Done!"

“Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you.”  1 Samuel 12:24; Thanksgiving Eve; November 21, 2018

Grace…

Life goes by so quickly!  It’s hard to believe how fast the year has gone, and now we are here celebrating Thanksgiving once again.  In the blink of an eye, a year has gone by and we are here.

Of course, it’s really not quite that simple, right?  There is the day in, day out, kind of routine that we are all in.  Whether you are a child, a student, an adult who does the daily routine that is called “work”, or if you are a senior citizen and you are retired, we all have a routine.  It involves the every day duties, where there are many joys, and also many challenges and sorrows. 

And, in all of those routines, have you ever“ considered” how God has taken care of you this past year? Have you considered how He has provided for you daily?  How He has taken care of your family?  How He has provided for our community, city, state, nation, and world?  Though we have failed, time and time again, God has been faithful, so very faithful in all of our lives.

Consider…It’s what Samuel called for the Children of Israel to do—more fully, to “Consider what great things God had done for them.” The Hebrew word that is translated as “Consider”, (וּא֔ר  re u) is translated also as “Look, See, Mark; or even Behold.”  In all of those translations, it is used to try to get an individual or group to stop and pause, to reflect on an item or a statement for some time, to try to grasp how truly great something may be.

In our text for today, Samuel was now coming to the end of his life.  He had served the Lord as the leader or “judge” for quite some time.  He followed in line after Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and Sampson.  Some of the judges we know a lot, like Moses and Joshua.  But others we know very little, names included in the book of Judges, like Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar.  As judge over Israel, it was Samuel’s job to listen to what God had to say, and let God be the ruler over all things.

But, the people of Israel were not content with this.  They saw how the other nations of the world had kings.  Kings who had palaces.  Kings who had servants.  Kings who declared war on other nations.  Kings who were successful.  And they wanted to have a king too!  They weren’t content with a judge like Samuel.  And they weren’t content with the Lord being in charge.  They wanted to be like all of the other nations of the world! They wanted a king!

So, the Lord through Samuel relented.  He gave them what they wanted.  He gave them Saul, to be their first king.  Samuel warned them that they would have troubles if they had a king.  But, he also told them to “Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.”

Consider what great things God had done for the Children of Israel.  He gathered them out of slavery in Egypt.  He brought them through the Red Sea and defeated Pharaoh and his mighty army.  He cared for them for forty years in the wilderness, showering them with manna every day and springs of water in the desert.  He defeated mighty nations before them and gave them the Promised Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And He cared for them each and every day, giving them food, drink, clothing, and shoes, house, and home, and protection from all their enemies of body and soul.  Each and every day….Day in and day out, God cared for them!

And still they forgot.  They abused God’s goodness to them.  They took Him for granted.  They wasted His precious blessings, and instead made detestable idols for themselves.  They fought and argued amongst themselves, and they desired what the rest of the world had, instead of rejoicing over the far greater blessings that God had given to them!

And yet…God still loved them each and every day.  He showered them with blessings, again and again and again.  Even though they fell into sin time and time again, He lifted them up.  He protected them from their enemies of body and soul, and promised them eternal life forever with Him.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, does this sound familiar at all to you?  Have you found yourself being grumpy and downhearted about your situation in life?  Have you found yourself to be critical of others and argumentative?  Have you been worried, and afraid about the conditions of our world?  If it wouldn’t be for special days like this, would you truly remember to be thankful to God?  Well then, Samuel’s message to Israel is a message for you too! For consider what great things God has done for you!

He has sent His precious Son, Jesus, to this earth to rescue you from the slavery of sin.  He has defeated Satan’s powerful armies through the cross and resurrection.  He has cared for you each and every day, showering you with food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, and home, spouse and children—things we call “daily bread”.  He protects you daily from all of your enemies of body and soul, and He assures you that He has prepared a place for you in heaven where there is no more sorrow, or tears, sickness, or death!  Consider what great things God has done for you!

I understand…it’s so hard to put it into words.  It’s hard to fathom all that God does for us.  It goes way beyond the things that are obvious.  God is working intensely for us each and every moment of every day, even using the challenging and difficult circumstances of our lives for our good.  That is why this word, “Consider” is so good for us today.  “Behold!  Look! And See what great things God has done for you!”

Because of sin, and the effects of sin, the natural tendency of human beings is to “curve inward on ourselves.”  (Like this metal spoon)  That means, by our sinful nature, we think when things are good “Look what I have done for myself!  I can do this and this and this myself!  And when things are bad, “Oh, woe is me!  How dreadful!  What will I ever do?”

That is why God’s Word is so important!  It bends us outward again!  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, it causes us to reflect the Light that comes from Jesus Christ.  It straightens us up and turns us outward.  Listen again to what Jesus has to say, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?...And consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…  But, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

God’s Word is the perfect remedy for us.  It points out our sin and gives us examples of how others have struggled in the past.  But, it doesn’t leave us there!  It turns us to Jesus Christ.  He gives us eyes to see and ears to really hear.  He gives us a new perspective on life.  A life where we consider how very blessed we are, how cared for we are, and how dearly loved we are. 

This causes us to join with the Apostle Paul to say, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again.  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.”

So today (tonight) “Consider the great things God has done!”  Rejoice in them!  And reflect His light into this world.

God grant it…

11/18/18 "Here He Comes!"

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  Daniel 12:2-3; Pentecost 26; 2nd last Sunday in the Church Year; November 18, 2018

Grace…

It was a day like no other.  There was just a very strange feeling to it.  Anyone who was alive at that time and old enough to remember it will never forget it.  And every now and then I think about the things people said, and the looks on people’s faces.

The day, of course, was September 11, 2001.  Two planes loaded with American civilians, but hijacked by Muslim extremists, slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Washington DC, killing over 3,000 people, and setting off emotion and fear throughout the rest of the United States. 

While there were many emotions that were going on throughout the day in a range from sorrow to revenge, the one that is etched in my mind is the one of fear.  It came especially from a man who stood at the doorway to my office and just looked in.  The look on his face had fear written all over it.  He said to me, “I know you don’t know me.  I live down the street.  I don’t go to your church.  But, I walk by it all the time.  But, can you tell me, something?  Is this the end of the world?”  Is it the end of the world?

Of course, I wasn’t able to fully answer him.  I looked at him for quite a while and explained to him, that the answer to his question is a mystery only known by God the Father, but there are signs that are surely present.   Jesus predicted that there would be wars and rumors of wars, and they are here.  Nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  But, the Bible also says, “These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”  So, the answer is, “Maybe.”  But, we will leave this question completely where it should be—in the hands of God.

Could it be?  Is this the day when Jesus will return?  Could today be the day?  God’s people have always been taught to be alert.  Because any day could be that day.  But, for a believer, the day of Jesus return is a day not to be feared and dreaded.  This is a day in which all of the promises of God are finally fulfilled.  Yes, before that day, there will be great trials and tribulation.  It’s a day that we knew was coming, and it’s a day which almost everyone in this world knows in the back of their mind is coming too.  The difference is how we prepare for it. Do we prepare in fear of the world? Or do we prepare through faith in God?

Our text for today is from the book of Daniel.  The book of Daniel is a book about struggles, and battles, and war.  The prophet Daniel arises at a time when God’s people were taken off into exile in Babylon about 586 BC, and were taken about a thousand miles from home.  The first six chapters of the book are the history of God’s people as they were taken and lived in Babylon.  Daniel became an advisor to King Nebuchadnezzar by interpreting the king’s dream.  His friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were cast into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to an idol. He, himself, was thrown into a den of lions for continuing to pray to the true God.    But the true God, the triune God, the Ancient of Days, was with His people as they fought their battles against the old evil foe and the world around them.  These men were heroes of the faith, bright shining stars for the Lord!

The second six chapters of the book of Daniel describe more battles that God and His people would fight.  These chapters are prophecy for the future.  Most of Daniel’s prophecies are in symbolic, picture language—sometimes known as apocalyptic.   We see many of the same pictures in the Book of Revelation: strange creatures, symbolic numbers, battles between spiritual forces in heaven and on earth.

Therefore, the book of Daniel is divided up into two distinct sections:  one is historical, and the other is prophetic.  Some of the prophecies had immediate fulfillments in the decade and centuries that followed Daniel, while there were also prophecies that had an even greater fulfillment in Jesus.  This is the case before us in our text, looking ahead to when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  Today we look at the last battle in the Book of Daniel.

Daniel says, “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.”  He’s describing a time that will take place just before the last judgment.  It’s a struggle for believers in God, living in a world ruined by sin.  It’s a world that hates God’s message and hates God’s messengers.  The people of God also struggle as they wrestle with temptations and with the weakness of their own sinful flesh.  We speak of this time in between Jesus first coming and His second coming as the “end times”.  And guess what, we are in them right now! Do you know the struggle?  The struggles of dealing with temptation and weakness?  And still Jesus is ruling, in all authority!

Everything before Jesus first coming was preparation.  The Law, the sacrifices, the ceremonies and festivals.  Jesus came and fulfilled the law and all of the promises of God for us.  He died completely for our sins and rose again so that we would have the forgiveness of sins and hope for every situation in life.  He promised that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. 

And now, things are being brought to a close for the final fulfillment.  It’s coming! It’s closer than ever before-- the deliverance of believers in Jesus as He is coming again to take us to be with Him where He is.   There, we will live with Him, in pure joy, forever and ever.

It’s true--every generation thinks it’s going to be the last generation, because every generation thinks society can’t get any world than it already is.  And yet the world seems to continue to get farther and farther away from Christ and His Word.  When we look at the news on TV, or the internet, or our newspapers, we wonder, “Where has the love for God gone?  Where is the concern for our neighbors?” We are pilgrims in an unwelcoming and unholy land.

So, how can we get through this mess called life, in these troubled times? God gives Daniel the answer—an answer that was as good back then as it is now.  God gives us a promise of deliverance.  “At that time”, He says, “shall arise, Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people.”  Michael is the only archangel mentioned in the Bible.  Gabriel is the messenger angel, but Michael is the general of God’s army of angels, which protects God’s people from the forces of evil.  Michael serves as God’s special agent to keep to His people from the devil’s plans and purposes.  The Lord, our Immanuel, (God with us!) remains present with His people.  He is here to save us!  God promises that there will be a time of final and ultimate deliverance!

“But at that time (Daniel says) your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”  Daniel is seeing the final deliverance on the Last Day, which St. Paul described with these words, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first…”  At the last trumpet call, in the blink of an eye, God’s angels will gather up all His people.  No one will be left behind.  It’s a breathtaking picture that God gives.  Here comes Jesus down out of the clouds with the archangel shouting the command for all to appear before Jesus.  At His call, the graves give up their dead, and body and soul will be reunited.

Then the judgment will begin.  All will be gathered before the throne, both believers and unbelievers.  On that throne will be Jesus, our Savior.  He was given that position by His Father, as the Redeemer of all the world, who gave His life on the cross for all people, all those gathered before Him that day.  Those who do not believe in Him, who reject Him as their Lord and Savior will awake to shame and everlasting contempt—which is hell, where there will be eternal suffering and pain with no joy, only sorrow.

But, whoever believes in Him will be saved!  Where He is there they will also be with Him forever, where there will be no more suffering, pain, tears, or death.  Daniel says of them, “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” There we will shine like the brightness of the heavens and sing God’s praises with the angels!  This is the source of courage we all need to face the trials and the struggles of life!

Jesus will come again in glory!  The first time He came to us in humility, laid in a manger, walked the paths of Galilee, and was nailed to a cross.  He comes to us today, in the preaching of His Word, in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, bringing us forgiveness, courage, and love.  But, He will come again in glory, just as He promised, and He will keep us and protect us to the end!  Today, God’s Word gives us good news, a wake up call, a head’s up!  A day to prepare and look for His coming!  (And we say)  “Amen, Come Lord Jesus come!”

11/4/18 "Good News We Need"

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:11-12; All Saints Sunday; November 4, 2018

Grace…

Most of you have probably heard of the Tour de France, the most famous and one of the longest bicycle races in the world.  It covers over 2,082 miles in 21 stages.  Several years ago, I read a story about an interesting and unique bicycle race in India.  The object of this race was to go the shortest distance possible within a specific time.  At the start of the race, everyone lined up at the line and when the gun sounded all of the bicycles, as best they could, stayed put.  Your feet had to be up of course…Racers were disqualified if they tipped over or one of their feet touched the ground.  And so they would inch forward, very slowly just enough to keep the bike balanced.  When the time was up and another gun sounded, the person who had gone the farthest was the loser and the person closest to the starting line was the winner.

Imagine getting into that race and not understanding how the race really works.  When the race starts, you pedal as hard and as fast as you possibly can.  You’re out of breath.  You’re sweating.  You’re delighted because the other racers are way back there at the starting line.  You think this is fantastic. 

At last you hear the gun that ends the race, and you are delighted, because you think that you are the winner.  Except you are without a doubt the loser because you misunderstood how the race is run.  The rules seemed upside down.

In our text for today, from the Gospel of Matthew, often known as the Beatitudes, it seems like the things Jesus values are upside down too.  Everything seems to run against the grain of what is normal in our world.  Unless you have read this lesson from Matthew before, it seems like everything is the opposite of what is expected in life. Maybe even if you’ve studied it before.

I mean, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth?” Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy?” Who, among us naturally wants to mourn, be meek, and be merciful? By nature, we want to be the opposite!  But, this is exactly where God’s powerful Word gently takes hold of us, changes us, leads us, and helps us to have a new perspective on our lives.  Jesus wants to see the big picture!  He wants us to see things as He truly sees them! 

Our text in Matthew chapter 5, is really the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  Just prior to this lesson, Jesus had called His first disciples, and was healing many people.  The crowds were gathering around Him from all over the area, Galilee, Syria, the Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and they were bringing their sick and troubled to Him, those who were paralyzed, those who had epilepsy, and those who were possessed with demons.  And Jesus healed them.

And then as the text tells us, Jesus went up on the mountain and began to teach them.  I would suggest to you that in His teaching, He was also bringing healing to them.  For just as troubled as they were with various physical diseases, the people were also troubled with their spiritual perspectives on life. Their natural sinful nature had taken hold of them and it was wreaking havoc into their life. These were real people with real life problems, like you and me.  And they needed a change in perspective!

Perhaps you know what I’m talking about.  You’re a real person with real life problems too.  And life is often so complicated!  There are all kinds of temptations to sin, to grumble, complain, and fight.  It’s a mixed-up world with so many emotions.  People fly off of the handle and argue with each other at the drop of the hat--Even life-long friends, even family members, even, sad to say, within the church.  It’s very easy to get caught up in this antagonism too.  But, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  Have you ever tried to make peace between two people or groups of people?  It’s hard work.  And sometimes some of the people get mad at you, even though you’re simply trying to bring peace.   But, Jesus understands, and He calls you peacemakers “sons (daughters) of God”.  He understands!

For Jesus is the one who came to bring peace between God and man, heaven and earth.  People had turned their back on God and had gone their own way.  But, Jesus kept searching for them.  The woman at the well, the man with many demons, Zacchaeus, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and really all people, including you and me, had gone their own way away from God.  The words of the prophet Isaiah are so true, “We all like sheep have gone astray…”(Is. 53:6) But, Jesus came for all of us.  He lived these beatitudes.  These are His values.  He was the One who was meek.  He was the One who hungered and thirsted for righteousness.  He was the One who was merciful and pure in heart.  He was the One who was the peacemaker.  He was the One who was persecuted for righteousness sake…for your sake, so that you would have peace with God.  He suffered and died for your sake and mine.  And on the third day, He rose again so that everyone who believe in Him would have eternal salvation in heaven forever!  This is Good News We Need to Hear!

Today, Jesus calls us again to “Come, follow” Him.  As followers and believers in Him, He calls us to have a new perspective in life.  Although sin, death, and the devil have been defeated, they still try to raise up their ugly heads.  The devil tries to twist, distort, and skew our perspective, so that quite often it seems like the proud, the arrogant, and the warlike win out. 

But, Jesus says the opposite is really true!  God’s will, will win out in the end!  The meek (the humble) (Jesus says) they will inherit the earth.  The merciful will receive mercy.  The peacemakers will be called sons (and daughters) of God.   In fact, Jesus even goes a step further saying, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kind of evil against you on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”  Jesus says there is a great reward that is waiting for us, and that’s Good News We Need to hear today!

Today is All Saints Sunday.  It’s a day to remember those people who have gone before us in faith. They went through many hardships and persecutions in life, but they trusted in God.  They overcame and are receiving their reward in heaven.   They are people like the heroes of the Bible, Peter and John and Mary who trusted in God even though they were mocked and reviled.  They are also people like many of your relatives, your ancestors, who believed in Jesus and overcame.  The Holy Spirit kept them firm in the faith, and today we praise God for them!

We also remember those who are being greatly persecuted today.  Especially in other parts of the world like Syria, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea where Christians are routinely persecuted in a variety of ways. Recent estimates show that over 200 M Christians worldwide are experiencing high levels of persecution.  We pray that these saints hold firm in the faith and remember the Good News from Jesus who promises a great reward in heaven for them.

And also today, we remember each of us, going through life right now.  And life is often so hard.  Some of us are mourning, some of us are facing mockery from other people.  And although the persecution is not outright and physical like it is in other parts of the world, it is still there.  Satan and the pressures of this world make life very difficult for the followers of Jesus.  But, remember, by faith through the power of your baptism, you are a saint in God’s eyes.  You are blessed by God, and He will provide for you!  Jesus gives you His perspective.  And today we remember that God is preparing a great reward for you in heaven.  This is Good News we need to hear!

God grant it…

10/28/18 "Once and For All"

“Unlike other High Priests, He (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.”  Hebrews 7:27; Reformation; 10/28/18

Grace…

About this time every year I get the same feeling!  It happens every year!  It goes kind of like this.  The other day, I had just finished picking up the leaves on my lawn.  I actually kind of enjoy it.  I mow them and put them both in recycling—“kill two birds with one stone, right”.  And afterward, I looked over my lawn, and thought, “Wow, that looks great!”  The grass is green, the leaves are all colorful and up in the trees.  It’s a beautiful crisp fall day.  All is well!

But, within a short amount of time, I went inside my house and looked at my back yard, and those beautiful leaves that were up in the trees just a few minutes ago were now laying on that once picked up lawn.  And I thought to myself, “Now, I’m going to need to do it all over again!  The leaves keep coming!  Again and again and again, until the snow comes—right?  And then that will need to be taken care of, again, and again, and again.  Because the snow keeps coming!

But, if you think about it, there are so many jobs that we have to do, over and over, again and again in life! Wash the dishes, or pack the dishwasher, unpack the dishwasher, sweep the floor, vacuum the carpet.  Make the lunches.  Clean up afterward.  Prepare the dinner.  Clean up after dinner.  Go shopping.  Unpack the car.  Clean the car.  Some of them very easy, some of them harder, but they always need to be done again and again and again.  It is ongoing and sometimes never seem to stop.

Imagine some of the other much more difficult jobs that need to go on and on, every day!  How about for people who lived long ago?  How about for a moment the job of the Old Testament Jewish priest.  His job dealt with offering sacrifices to God every day.  Some of the sacrifices would be things like incense which would be burned at the altar of incense, and sometimes grain would be offered, burned as a grain offering to the Lord.  Those offerings would be pretty easy.

But each day there also would be offerings of doves, and bulls, goats and sheep—a lamb in the morning and at night!.  Every day, the job of the priest was to offer these sacrifices by ceremonially killing the animal, and placing them on the altar to be burned in a way that was given by the Lord, as a way to pay for people’s sins.  Imagine, how hard of a job that would be, each and every day.  And because people did not stop sinning, the sacrifices in the Old Testament needed to continue every day.

What is more, once a year, on the special day called the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest would sacrifice one bull for his own sins and one goat was sacrificed for the sake of all the people.  The blood of the bull and the blood of the goat were taken and sprinkled in the special room in the temple, called the Holy of Holies, on what was called the mercy seat of God.  These things happened year after year.  It was the job of the High Priest.  There didn’t seem to ever be an end to it, because the sins kept coming, and they need to be atoned for.  Talk about a tough job that seemed to have no end—day after day, year after year!

But, praise God, because that was the old covenant, the old promise, which was just a shadow, something that pointed to, what was to come.  Because God has a new covenant, far better that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Here, there’s no need for daily sacrifices of animals (praise God), and no need for the yearly sacrifice both for the High Priest and the people on the Day of Atonement.  No blood needs to be sprinkled in the Holy of Holies on the mercy seat of God any more.  Because the genuine, authentic, High Priest Jesus Christ Himself, has shed His own blood for each one of us, once for all on the cross.  Like the book of Hebrews says, “Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins, once for all when He offered Himself.”  And what is more, your High Priest, Jesus Christ rose again from the dead on the third day, so that we would have eternal salvation in His name—forever and ever Amen!

Today, in our church, we are celebrating the Reformation.  The Reformation was a movement that was started by Martin Luther, on October 31, 1517 (501 yrs. ago), as he nailed the 95 Theses to the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany to begin a conversation to reform or bring change to the church.  The Catholic church of Luther’s time and still today, wrongly taught that if you really wanted to have your sins fully forgiven, you needed to do something more too.  Christ’s forgiveness wasn’t complete until you did something more as what was called satisfaction.  That satisfaction, in Luther’s day may be buying an indulgence, paying to touch a relic, making a pilgrimage to Rome, or perhaps even today saying a special set of prayers.  But, one of Luther’s main points in the Reformation that still applies today, was that Jesus’ forgiveness was already full, complete, and once for all.  We cannot and dare not, add anything to it, His forgiveness is complete!  Just imagine, if you had to try to earn it every day!  It would be like saying Jesus sacrifice wasn’t complete enough.  And sometimes we all fall into that temptation to also think that way.  Dear Lord forgive us!

Because, unlike so many other things in life, your forgiveness has been paid in full through Jesus.  There’s no need to have it re-upped every day, every week, or once a year.  It’s the gift of a lifetime—eternal life—and it’s given by Jesus once for all!  The text in Hebrews says, “Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  Our high priest Jesus meets all of the needs of our life. 

What are our needs in life?  To know that we are loved.  You are precious to Jesus, each and every one of you.  “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.  To know that we are forgiven.  “Jesus sacrificed for your sins once for all.”  And on the cross He said, “It is finished.” (The debt is paid)  And we have the need to know that He is with us.  He said, “Surely (Lo), I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”(Matt. 28:20)  And if you look closely at this passage from Hebrews, you will see that it says, “Such a high priest meets our need”—singular.  Our greatest need is to know that we have eternal salvation in Jesus.  It is ours.  It is the truth.  And that truth will set you free!

Maybe you know someone who struggles with a lot of worry, stress, and anxiety in life.  They constantly worry because they feel they’re not talented enough, not smart enough, not good enough.  Satan, the world, and their own sinful flesh make them feel like they’ve got to do more, to earn their acceptance, and earn their salvation.   It has cost them a lot.  Loss of sleep, loss of health, loss of friendships.  Maybe it’s even led them down the road of bad habits and addictions to, alcohol, drugs, and other types of things.  Maybe this someone is a friend or family member.  Maybe it’s even you!

Let this Reformation truth sink into your heart and soul… Let it bring you hope and joy…Your High Priest, Jesus Christ, meets our need—all of them, our greatest need—He is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, and exalted above the heavens!  He genuinely and authentically loves you!  He has sacrificed for you, once for all, and grants you His forgiveness, (it keeps coming)  daily, hourly, all the time, and calls you freely to serve Him with joy…

God grant it…    

10/21/18 "Living and Active Word of God"

“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” Hebrews 4:12-13; Pentecost 22; October 21, 2018

Grace…

It was mid-August, about a week before the first day of school, and back to school shopping was in full throttle.  There I was in a shopping line waiting to check out.  My family had gone to an outlet store on the other side of the state to get a certain pair of authentic Nike tennis shoes.  Nothing else would do.  Now granted I didn’t go to the other side of the state just for this, but I was spending a large hunk of a Sunday afternoon, waiting in line when I could do something far more productive.

There I was, approximately number 60 in a line of 80 people, wrapped around the whole store in the shape of a snake.  There I was, standing, wondering why I needed to be there, in that store, at that time.  Of course, it was so that I could get those genuine, authentic Nike shoes for my daughter, so that she could have just the right tennis shoes.  Perhaps you’ve been there too!  Oh, maybe not at the Nike outlet store.  But struggling, needing patience to overcome the odds just to get the genuine article—the authentic goods for your children, grandchildren or for yourself.

Imagine if we would have the same type of perseverance, the same kind of effort, the same intensity to find the genuine, authentic Words of God.  If we fought through the obstacles, gave up the other luxuries, showed great perseverance to hear, and let it take root in our lives with the Word of God, like we do with so many other things.

Sad to say, in our society today, the Word of God is not always sought after.  It’s often treated with a yawn or less.  When people say, the Bible says this, or the Bible says that, the reaction by some is, “Big Deal”, “So What!” or “Whatever!”

The Bible says, “Worship the Lord Your God and Him only!”  And the world says, “Big Deal!” The Bible says, “Love your neighbor, and pray for those who persecute you.” And the world says, “So What!”  And the Bible says, “Forgive one another as you have been forgiven.”  And the culture of our world says, “Whatever!”

But, let me remind you today, that this Bible that I hold in my hand is not just like any other book.  This is the genuine, authentic Word of God!  When it is read, or listened to, it is just as if God Himself was speaking to you!  Can you imagine yawning if God was speaking to you?  How about looking at your phone, or playing a game on your device if God, the Lord of life, was speaking?  How about being more interested in sports, or Facebook, or what’s on Pinterest, than what God’s Word has to say about our lives?  Our text from the book of Hebrews says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword….discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

This book of Hebrews was written around the year 65 AD.  It was written to Christian people who were being tempted to give up their faith.  This was happening because some of the Christians were being threatened with persecution, jail time, beatings, and even death.  Some were giving up their Christian faith and turning back to Judaism, which was at that time protected.  Some turned away from following Jesus Christ, and began simply following the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices.  But, the author showed again and again that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. He is far superior to Moses, far superior to the sacrifices. Far superior to the High Priests, because He is the very Son of God and Savior of the World.

The text reminds us, that in the Old Testament, the Children of Israel traveled from slavery in Egypt on to the Promised Land of Canaan.  But, many rebelled against God, and His servants Moses and Aaron.  Their hearts became hard and stubborn with sin. As a result, they did not make it to the Promised Land to find rest.  They died in the desert, in the wilderness, apart from the rest that God had provided for them.  In our text, the author reminds the people that like the Old Testament people of old, we are walking on to the Promised Land of heaven where we will find rest. 

So, the author says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”  God’s Word is calling us onward today to, “Come, follow Him.”  Although we are not walking in the wilderness, we are walking through life together.  And, it often seems like a wilderness, right?  We are called to follow Jesus, and seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and yet so often we go and do our own thing. Sometimes our hearts get hardened and calloused by the sin of this world.  And we say things like, “So what!” “Who cares?” and “Whatever?”

But, “the Word of God is living and active sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s Word speaks to our hearts like nothing else in this world, because God is our Creator.  It is our heart language.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows that we are all sinful people.  His Word is like the sword because it sharply addresses and cuts the hardness of sin out of our life.  We may try to cover things up, but God knows what is going on in our lives, and His Word speaks to it.  It says, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

I remember a time when I was a teenager where I came to church on a Sunday with a chip on my shoulder.  I was there, but I came with a hard heart.  Some things were going on in my life, and I didn’t think that God cared about them.  The service started, there was a song, confession and forgiveness of sins, the Bible readings, and another song.  Then the pastor began preaching.  And, wouldn’t you know, it sounded as if the pastor was preaching right about what was going on in my life.  I remember thinking, “Wow, how does he know what is happening, and how my heart feels.”  I remember looking over at my dad, wondering if he had told the pastor about what was going on in my life.  But, he didn’t.  The pastor was just faithfully preaching God’s Word.  And God’s Word had it’s way with me.  You can fool a lot of people a lot of times, but you cannot fool God.  God’s Word addressed my stubborn sinful heart, brought me to repentance, and it cut it out.  Then it turned me to Jesus, my Savior, who brings me forgiveness, hope, and rest for my soul.

That is what God’s Word does for us today.  God knows your heart.  He knows the stubborn sin in our lives, and He desires to cut it out.  And He points us to Jesus.  The Bible says, “Since then we have a great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus knows our situations in life.  He sympathizes with us.  He knows how hard our temptations are.  He was tempted just like us.  But, He brings complete forgiveness for every situation of life.  He understands us, and He is there to forgive and help us. 

He’s there for you Cerina and Owen, and for your family.  He’s connected you to Himself through baptism, called you His children, given you the Holy Spirit, and all the blessings of heaven are yours.

We all may spend a great deal of time looking for what is genuine and authentic in life.  Today, we are reminded that the Word of God in the Bible, is truly genuine and authentic.  It is living, and active.  It works within you, cutting away the hardness of sin, and leads you to Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life, who genuinely and authentically loves and cares for you.

The writer of the book of Hebrews then says, “Let us then with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s walk forward together in faith with confidence.  We have the genuine authentic Word of God guiding us to follow Jesus and find our rest in Him!

God grant it…

10/14/18 "Treasures in Heaven"

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.”  Mark 10:21; Pentecost 21; October 14, 2018

Grace…

Alfred Nobel, dropped the newspaper and put his head in his hands.  It was 1888.  Nobel was a Swedish chemist who had made a fortune, inventing and producing dynamite.  He had just heard that his brother Ludvig had died in France.

But now Alfred’s grief was doubled by shock.  He’d just read an obituary in a French newspaper—not his brother’s obituary, but his own!  An editor had confused the two brothers.  The headline read, “The Merchant of Death is Dead!”  Alfred Nobel’s obituary described a man who had gotten rich by helping people kill one another with dynamite and bombs.

Shaken by this judgment of his life, Nobel resolved to use his wealth to change his legacy.  When he died eight years later, he left more than $9M to fund awards for people whose work benefited people.  The awards have come to be known as the Nobel Prizes, and every year are given for such things like Peace, Literature, Medicine and Economics.

Alfred Nobel had a rare opportunity—to look at the assessment of his life, at its end and still have the chance to change it.  Before his life was over, Nobel made sure he had invested his wealth in somethings he thought had lasting value. 

How about you? Are you investing in the temporary things of this world?  Having a closet full of clothes, the latest technology, the biggest toys? Or are you investing in the things that are eternal, that is in the One thing needful, that is in a relationship of faith in Jesus Christ? What’s most important in your life? 

This is a good question to ask today, because our text from the Gospel of Mark takes us to a discussion between Jesus and a rich young man over what’s most important in life.  This man certainly knew who Jesus was.  Perhaps he had seen Jesus perform a miracle, or heard Him speak.  He knew that Jesus was a good rabbi, a teacher of the Scriptures, and so he came running, knelt down and asked the question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

On the surface, this is a great question!  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  The young man is obviously concerned about eternity.  He wants to know what he needs to do to inherit eternal life.  My goodness, he’s thinking about eternity!  How often today, do people think about eternity?

But, there’s a problem with his question, and Jesus will eventually point it out.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  (What must I do?)  As if eternal life was all about the things that we do.  Is it praying a certain prayer ten times.  Kneeling down at the right place.  Making a trip, or pilgrimage to the temple or another country.  Good teacher, what must I do? 

But, Jesus, in His unique style, answers this young man’s question with another question.  “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.” Do you believe that Jesus is good?  Do you believe that He is God?  And if so, look at what He says.  “You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”  Even just what we call the 4th through the 8th commandments…the commandments that especially apply to our neighbors…have you kept them spotless and pure in your life?

And, the young man replies,  “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” How many of you (today) could honestly answer that question this way?  (I know I could not.)  All these I have kept from my youth?  How could this young man even say this?  Because it’s not just how you keep the commandment on the surface, that God looks at.  God looks at the heart and motivation.  Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder…But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. “ And “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”   Even with this small sample of the commandments, we must all say with the Apostle Paul, “No one is righteous.  No, not one…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!”(Rom. 3:10, 23) Dear Lord, forgive us!

But, the beautiful part of this lesson is that Jesus knows this about this rich young man too.  Jesus knows that he has not kept the law perfectly.  He knows he’s a sinner.  But He lovingly speaks to him, “You lack one thing: go sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.” Come, follow Me! 

Because by your own works, young man (young woman, middle aged person, senior citizen) you can’t keep the Law.  We are lost on our own.  Doomed to destruction in hell on our own.  But through Jesus, we have the forgiveness of sins.  We have hope for every situation of life.  Because He kept the Law perfectly.

Every step of His life and ministry was done to keep the Law perfectly for us.  Not only did He keep the Law on the surface, but He kept it perfectly in the motivations of His heart.  He fully obeyed His Father’s will.  He knew all along that it would take His life to pay for our sins.  In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Father, take this cup from me, nevertheless not My will, Your’s be done!” He was betrayed, captured, and put on trial submitting to the Law for our sakes.  And then on the cross, in His dying breath said these words, “It is finished!”  The debt was paid.  The Law was fulfilled for your sake and mine.  And He rose again on the third day, so that we would have victory through Him.   Eternal life is a gift to you through faith in Jesus.  It’s not about what else you need to do, it’s simply to believe in Him.

Now you may ask, then why did Jesus tell this rich young man to “go sell all He had and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven…”?  Because, it seems pretty clear that this young man loved his riches first.  Jesus was lovingly asking him, “What is more important to you, the treasures of this world, or the treasures of heaven? Are you investing in the temporary things of this world, or are you investing in the things that are eternal?

Christian author Randy Alcorn asks this question, “When you leave this world, will you be known as one who accumulated treasures on earth that you couldn’t keep?  Or will you be recognized as one who invested treasures in heaven that you couldn’t lose?”  Alcorn then he goes on to say, “Where we choose to store our treasures depends largely on where we think our home is.” 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Bible says we’re “pilgrims and strangers, aliens on earth.”  (Heb. 11:13)  This life on earth is temporary.  The things of this earth are temporary.   “We are citizens of a better country—a heavenly one.”  For as Paul says, our “citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:20)

Jesus was saying to the rich young man and to each of us today, to invest in what is eternal, in what will truly last.  It’s an amazing transformation.  He says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matt. 6:20-21)

So, God’s Word encourages you today, to give of yourself, your time, talents, and treasures to the things of heaven.  Spreading the message of Jesus personally, and through your church, through missions projects, Christian schools, (like here at West Shore Lutheran), youth projects, evangelism programs, Bible classes, projects of mercy and outreach to the poor.  Letting others know about the hope we have in Jesus.  Investing in the things that are eternal!

Sad to say, the rich young man didn’t like what Jesus had to say.  The Bible says, “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.” He is one of the very few men in the Bible that came in contact with Jesus and went away sad. 

I pray that instead, you will rejoice in your Savior, who has given you eternal life as a gift, and follow Him, laying up treasures in heaven.  Some day, even the Nobel prizes that Alfred Nobel gave will come to nothing, but the Word of the Lord, and faith in Jesus will stand forever.

God grant it…

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