Saturday, April 21, 2018

Living as Servants of God

1 Peter 2:11-20 We spend an hour a week in church on Sunday hearing the Word of God and receiving Holy Communion and being among God’s people. If we stay for Bible class that’s an extra hour and during Lent and Advent there is another hour.
Basically, we spend an hour or two a week here in church, listening to and studying God’s Word, enjoying the fellowship of our fellow Christians—and then it’s out into the world for the other 167 hours of the week. This is where the real spiritual battle to live as servants of God takes place. The Bible says:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
The challenge of being Christians in the world begins in our own heart and how we see ourselves. The Bible says that we are “sojourners and exiles”. In other words, this world is not our true home—we are citizens of another place—we are simply passing through to our true home with God in heaven.
And so then, as sojourners and exiles we are to embody the values of our true home (which is God’s kingdom) and our rightful King (who is Jesus).
But the truth of the matter is, we are attracted to values of this unbelieving world and we are constantly tempted to follow in its ways and so our life in the world is a battle we have to wage every moment between the person that we are in Christ-- and our flesh.
The Bible says that we are to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Abstaining from what we want does not come naturally to us and most of us don’t have a lot of practice doing it. There is some new toy that we want and so we get it. We eat until we groan in pain. We sleep in rather than exercise.
And because we never tell ourselves “no” in the small things--we have little ability to say “no” when it really matters—when our flesh is tempting us to sin.
The struggle to live as servants of God begins is in our Old Adam and too many Christians have given up and given in when it comes to saying “no” to their flesh.
This is no small thing. The Bible calls it a war and that is exactly what it is! There will be a victor and there will be a loser. Either your passions will win out and drag you body and soul into the fires of hell-- or the Christian in you will win out and you will go to heaven and be raised on the last day.
Those are the only two possible outcomes of the spiritual battle each of us face within our hearts and out in the world and against the devil to live as servants of God and so we are called upon by God to abstain from the temptations of the flesh for the sake of our eternal salvation—but also for the sake of those around us. The Bible says:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
The battle that we must wage against our own sinful flesh has eternal consequences not only for us—but also for unbelievers around us.
In other words, when we walk out of this place on Sunday we have a solemn responsibility to live as Christian people so that those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior can come to know him BY how we live our lives in their presence.
You and I both know that, from Sunday to Sunday, we don’t really have all that many opportunities to speak about Christ.
Now, we have many, many more than we actually make use of!  But most of our interactions with others don’t provide us with many opportunities to talk about our faith. And yet we have limitless opportunities to live out our faith in our daily lives.
When we are kind to the people who serve us in the various stores around town—when we are patient with our co-workers—when we are helpful to our teachers—when we are generous to those in need—there is a powerful witness to Jesus whom we serve.
And that matters! There are plenty of people in our world today who are ready to think the worst about Christians and believe the worst about Christians—plenty of people who reject our values and who doubt our core beliefs.
We can talk to them—we can try to answer their arguments—we can be advocates for our rights as Christians in the public square (and there is value in all of these!) but there is one thing that is absolutely unassailable in making the case for Christ—and that is the power of a sincere, genuine Christian life.
The Bible says that you are to live in such a way that people see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. This means that on the day of our Lord’s return, there will be people going to heaven who give glory to God because they saw how we lived our lives—learned about what we believe and why-- and came to faith in Jesus.
That is the high calling of the Christian life—that in our daily lives we reflect Jesus so that others can see him in us. That is certainly to be true in our lives as citizens in this nation. The Bible says:
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
There are any number of governmental entities and individuals that have a claim upon our lives as citizens and so we pay our taxes and serve on juries and obey the speed limit.
As Christian citizens we are free to advocate for less government and fewer regulations and lower taxes, but when it comes to the laws that are on the books and the government officials who enforce them--the Bible says that we are to be subject to them.
God expects us to do good rather than evil for our nation and its government and our fellow citizens because that has a positive effect on those around us—silencing their complaints and concerns about having Christians as fellow citizens because of how we live our lives.  The Bible says: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
There is an honor due to everyone given their place in life. To the young woman who checks us out at HEB it is common courtesy. To the tradesmen who does work for us there is there prompt payment of their bill. To doctors who care for us and educators who instruct our children there is appreciation. Honoring everyone means that treat others as we would like to be treated.
Our attitude towards our fellow Christians goes beyond that. The Bible says that we are to love the brotherhood—that is, our fellow Christians and especially the members of our own congregation. It is a shameful, sinful thing when Christians despise and mistreat their fellow Christians for we are brothers and sisters in God’s family.
And when it comes to our relationship with God, the Bible says that we are to fear him. It’s an interesting word that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to use when it comes to what we are to render to God.
In other places, the Bible talks about loving God and trusting God and obeying God-- but here the Holy Spirit says that we are to fear God. And so we should!
That is because these are words are written to us with the expectation that we will obey them. They are not left to our own discretion. They are not optional for the Christian.
God expects us to recognize those places in our life where we have fallen, repent of them immediately and receive the forgiveness of Jesus and then begin to amend our lives by following his will for his servants that we find in his word today. The Bible says:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
            It is easy when reading through these words to simply see them as a list of rules that we are to follow that govern our conduct in the workplace and in the nation and in the church. And they are indeed commands of God and God expects our obedience!
But there’s more to it than that. These words about love and respect and obedience are words about Jesus and how he lived his life:  doing good to those who mistreated him—enduring sorrows while suffering unjustly—dying for our sins.
Jesus’ life of love and obedience and respect did not earn him worldly success and great fame and wealth—his life of love and obedience led him to the cross—and it will lead to hardship for us too. But it also the only road that leads to eternal life.
That is why the Bible says that it is a gracious thing in the sight of God when we suffer for doing good and endure because that kind of life identifies us with Christ and his life. 
And so we live our lives here on earth as Jesus lived his life—as servants of God—speaking our Father’s words and doing our Father’s will and walking in the steps of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Jesus Is the Good Shepherd

John 10:11-16 Of all the images of our Savior in Holy Scripture perhaps none is so dearly loved as that of the Good Shepherd.  That’s as it should be for the image of the Good Shepherd tells us much that is true about what kind of Lord and Savior we have in Jesus—one who is strong and gentle and loving.  This image tells us much that is true about what kind of people we are—weak and defenseless and prone to wander like sheep who go astray.
            As we reflect on God’s Word to us today we hear these truths taught by Jesus who tells us that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life and takes it up again for us—the Good Shepherd who knows us and provides for us—the Good Shepherd who came into the world to gather a flock for himself.
            Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”   In a choice of three things, advertisers list them in terms of good, better, best—good being the worst.  But when God uses the word “good” it is something altogether different than what the world means.
When God created the heavens and the earth he looked at all he created and called it “good”.  It was good beyond anything we can comprehend—perfect beyond comparison!  That is the sense in which Jesus is our Good Shepherd and his goodness is found in the fact that he gives his life for the sheep.  The goodness of the Good Shepherd is grounded in the cross.
            At one point in Jesus’ ministry, as he was surrounded by a crowd, the Bible says that he looked at the people and had compassion on them “because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd”. 
That’s true of all of us.  We are born into this world as weak and helpless as newborn lambs and throughout our lives we are harassed by enemies deadlier to us than wolves are to sheep:  the enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  And just as sheep have no natural weapons with which they can protect themselves, so we are helpless in the face of these enemies.
            But our Good Shepherd wasn’t helpless—he had compassion on us and saved us from our enemies.  His holy life took the place of our sin.  His death on the cross was Satan’s defeat.  And his resurrection changed death from the end of the road for us to the doorway to heaven.  Just a few verses after our text, Jesus the Good Shepherd says,
“My Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”   
In ancient Israel it was not unknown for shepherds to be killed protecting their sheep and the stories of their bravery were told and retold.
            But the death of the shepherd was not good news for the sheep because it let them fall victim to the same enemy that had just destroyed the shepherd.  A brave (but dead) shepherd was no help to his sheep. 
Jesus showed that he is the Good Shepherd, not only because he lays his life down on the cross to defeat our enemies, but because he takes it up again in his resurrection.
            We have in Jesus Christ a living Shepherd who rules this world for us—for his flock—for the sake of his sheep—a living Shepherd who intercedes for us and helps us—and orders all things in heaven and on earth for our eternal good, to see us safely to our heavenly home.  Jesus the risen Shepherd promises, “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” 
            How different is this kind of crucified and risen Shepherd than all the pretenders that came before or since.  Jesus says that,
“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”     
These words of Jesus would have resonated with the people of that day.  In many ways, Israel’s long, sad history was the story of the failures of the shepherds who should have cared for them.  Their kings, and judges, and generals, and even their religious leaders showed themselves to be merely hirelings who were in it for themselves.
            Especially in Jesus’ day the scribes and Pharisees and teachers of the law had little concern for the flock that the God of Israel had entrusted to them.  Instead they were interested in politics, and power, and prestige.  They were in it for themselves.
            Not much has changed.  All around us we see those who are claiming to have our best interests at heart—politicians and pundits and even preachers—and yet they are in it for themselves-for what they can get out of us.  And when it comes time for them to show their true colors through sacrifice and selflessness—they turn and run.
            How different is our Good Shepherd from these hirelings!  Jesus knew just exactly what his life would entail—the suffering, pain, and death—and yet Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and the cross-- because he knew it was the only way for us to have the rich, abundant, eternal life that God wants us to have.  He did it because he knew what was best for his flock—and he still does.  Jesus says,
“I am the good shepherd.  I know My own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”   
Despite the fact that there are over a billion sheep in his flock Jesus has the individual number of our hairs counted, so intimately does he know us.  He knows when we rise up in the morning and when we rest at night—he knows our thoughts and dreams and hopes and struggles and fears. 
And because he knows us perfectly and personally—he knows exactly what is best for us and will always provide it to us.
            When Jesus spoke these words he was headed to Jerusalem with other Jewish pilgrims to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in which the Israelites would remember God’s care for them during their desert wanderings:  how he provided them with water and light and food. 
And as Jesus traveled along he proclaimed:  I AM the bread of life—I AM the living water—I AM the light of the world—and I AM the Good Shepherd.  He wanted the people then to know, and he wants us to know today, that he graciously and generously provides for his flock—just exactly what we need, when we need it—because he knows us individually and personally.
            And not only does he know us—he wants us to know him and have fellowship with him.  Jesus says, “I am known by my own.”    Jesus wants us to know him just like sheep know their shepherd—to listen to him and follow him and come to him in faith when he calls. 
Our Good Shepherd wants us to know his voice and to respond to his call and to recognize his presence and so he speaks to us in his word and gives himself in Holy Communion so that we can have life in his name.
            And the life that he has come to give to us and the fellowship that he offers to us he wants to share with the entire world.  Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”   
Jesus is not content that the number of sheep in his flock remain static and certainly not for it to decline.  The Bible says that he “is not willing for any to perish but that all should come to repentance.”  
            Throughout his earthly ministry we see the Good Shepherd adding to his flock--reaching out to those caught in sin like the woman at the well and Zaccheus the tax collector—reaching out to Romans and Samaritans—reaching out to those who denied him in his hour of need. 
In the parable of the lost sheep Jesus explains how the Good Shepherd is not content with 99 out of 100 but seeks the one lost sheep to bring it into the flock as well.
            We need to have exactly the same attitude when it comes to those who are not yet a part of the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Jesus has shed his life’s blood for them and the greatest tragedy that exists in the world today is when someone for whom Christ died goes to hell not knowing the one who loves them like a shepherd loves his little lambs.
            His mission of salvation has been entrusted to us and any hesitancy to invite others to become a part of his flock because of their sinful life- or because of their ethnicity- or because they have wandered from the flock- should be set aside because our Good Shepherd wants them to be a part of his flock with us so that there would be one flock and one shepherd.
            What a comfort it is for us to hear once again that in Jesus Christ we have a Good Shepherd—one who shows his unfailing love for us in his death and resurrection—one who knows us intimately and invites us to know him in the same way—a Good Shepherd who enriches our lives on earth by inviting his to share in his mission of seeking and saving the lost.  Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Resurrection!

The Resurrection!

Mark 16:1-8 I have been by the bedside of many people who have died and I have never gotten used to it.  There is nothing quite so final seeming as seeing that the chest rise and fall for the last time—the breath to be breathed out and not another taken in—to see the spirit leave the body behind.  We know nothing more clearly in that moment than this is not the way it is supposed to be.
But there is not much time to linger on those thoughts.   There is much to do when a loved one dies—and that helps us in our grief—it keeps us busy and distracted from the pain of our loss. 
A grave must be purchased and a casket.  A time of service has to be arranged and guests have to be fed.  Clothes for the deceased have to be chosen.
And over the next two or three days, the pain of our loss is kept just a bit at arm’s length and even the worship and the meal with the family help in this regard.  But at the grave, when the last words are said, the last hugs and promises of prayer are made—there is nothing left to do but leave our loved one in the grave.
That is where we were left on Friday evening.  The faithful women heard Jesus commend himself into the hands of his Father, they watched Jesus breathe his last, the saw him give up his Spirit and die—just like all the others who had come before him.
They took his body from the cross, did what they are were able to do, covered him in a burial shroud and watched as he was placed in a tomb.  They heard an enormous stone being rolled in front of it.  They saw a seal placed on it, and guards posted so that no one could steal his body and say that he had been raised from the dead as he promised. 
With those sights and sounds, there was nothing left to do—not one thing that they could change—and they left their loved one in the grave and returned to their homes to observe the Sabbath.  The Bible says that:
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 
            Until our Lord Jesus Christ returns the story of these faithful women will be told and well it should.
These women were his faithful disciples.  They had supported him throughout his earthly ministry.  They were witnesses of his miracles.  And unlike the twelve disciples, they did not flee from his side when he needed them the most, but remained with him every moment as he suffered and died on the cross.
That we know what those terrible hours were like for our Lord, that we know the words he spoke there at the cross, is because of these faithful women who heard and saw it all.  And now, very early in the morning on the first day of the week, as soon as they woke from sleep and before the sun came, their only thought was to finish doing what was a necessary for a decent burial in that day and time.
And yet, for all their faithfulness, they were just like the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem—they had NO expectation that they would be dealing with anything else other than a corpse.   None.
This, despite the fact that Jesus had told them and the disciples and anyone who would listen, just exactly what would happen—that he would go to Jerusalem, be abandoned by his friends, rejected by his people, put to death on the cross by his enemies and rise again three days later.
He said that, just as it was for Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days, so it would be for him and that this was the only sign that mattered.  He stood by the graveside of Lazarus, proclaimed himself the resurrection and the life and showed what that meant by raising him from the dead.  Suffering, betrayal, rejection, death and resurrection was what he preached again and again, they heard it again and again—they saw it all play out just as he said in the week preceding week and yet early in the morning, on the first day of the week, the third day they traveled to a tomb expecting a corpse.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a lesson for us in this.  Jesus is the God of kept promises.  He is the way and the truth of the life.  He does not lie and we must not let our many religious duties keep us from the one thing needful and that is actually believing what Jesus says and believing that Jesus has the power to fulfill his promises.  The Bible says that:
They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 
            If there was anything that that these faithful women had come to know over the course of the days leading up to this moment was their helplessness in the face of forces greater and more powerful than themselves. 
There was nothing they could do to change the minds of those who rejected Jesus.  There was nothing they could do to make the disciples the men they should have been.  There was nothing they could do to make Herod and Pilate give Jesus justice.  There was nothing they could do to stop the soldiers from driving nails into Jesus feet and hands and putting a crown on his head and stabbing him with a spear. 
All of that helplessness came to a head as they traveled to Jesus’ tomb early that morning on the first day of the week, only to be reminded somewhere along the way that an enormous stone had been rolled into a carved groove in front of the tomb and there was no way that group of women could roll it out of the way. 
We can only imagine how they must have felt—their frailty and powerlessness exposed one last time.  But if they had only reflected just a bit they would have remembered other times when the weakness of people was no impediment to the power of Jesus. 
When he was surrounded by 5000 hungry people, the disciples could not imagine how to feed so many and yet in the hands of Jesus a few fish and a few loaves were more than enough.  When he was out with his disciples on a stormy sea and they thought they would all drown Jesus spoke a single word and the seas were calm and they were saved.  Blind eyes and deaf ears and lame legs and flows of blood and a crooked back all gave way to the power of Jesus. 
And here at the tomb, the faithful women were about to learn that lesson one more time:
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”  And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

            One of the questions in the Catechism is this:  What is the basis of our faith and life in Christ?  In other words, what is the foundation of our faith?  What is necessary for Christianity to be true?  People always want to say:  the crucifixion—and God be praised that the preaching of the cross is so central in our church.  But that is not the answer. 
Many thousands of people were crucified by the Romans.  In fact, not just Jesus but two others with him were crucified on Good Friday.  But only one of them and only one of those thousands was raised from the dead and that is Jesus.
Paul says that if Christ was not raised we Christians are the worst kind of fools.  He says that he delivered to the church that which is of first importance that Christ was raised form the dead. 
We do not worship and serve a good man or wise teacher or worthy example.  We worship and serve a living Lord who has powerfully conquered death and the grave—not just for himself—but for us too. 
That is why the resurrection of Jesus matters so much!  It is the fullness of his saving work and it is the Father’s stamp of approval on all it and it is why our Lord will, beyond any shadow of a doubt keep his promise to us that because he lives we also shall live.
The words and promises of our Lord Jesus Christ are faithful and true.  He did go to Jerusalem to suffer and die just like he said that we would but he also rose from the grave just as he said and it is this fulfillment of all his saving work that is our guarantee that we can take him at his word and build our life upon it.
The tomb was opened that morning, not so that Jesus could get out—but so that the faithful women (and we through their eyes) could look inside and know that Jesus has been raised.
They saw a grave where Jesus had been placed now empty.  The place in the rock where he had been laid on Friday, abandoned.  They saw the cloths that they had used to wrap his body left behind.  They saw the burial shroud placed over him no longer needed.
That is what was objectively true about Jesus’ grave early that morning on the first day of the week.  That is what people just like us saw and reported.  And that is what, by faith, the Holy Spirit wants us to see as we reflect on our own passing.
There is no one who has ever lost a loved one who does not, at least at some point, consider their own mortality.  We know that the care and concern we have extended to a departed loved one will also one day be extended to us by those we love when we pass from their presence on this earth.
But the angel’s testimony will also be spoken of us on the last day:  they are not here for they have been raised!  That is the Good News that we are to take to the world just like the faithful women that first Easter morning.  Amen.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Why Are You Weeping? Easter Sunrise

John 20:15 If you didn’t know who was speaking and why, you would think that the question was the height of cruelty:  “Why are you weeping”?  Who could have asked that question knowing even a little of what had happened during the last week? 
            And Mary Magdelene was a witness to all of it.  The religious leaders of her own people united in their hatred of an innocent man who never harmed a soul.  The weakness and lack of courage of those men who were the closest to the Lord who were still hiding behind locked doors.  The betrayal and denial of friends.
Every hammer blow upon nails and every groan of pain she heard.  Every drop of blood and every agonizing breath she witnessed.  There at the foot of the cross on Golgotha she felt the ground move beneath her feet and the shadows enveloped her as darkness covered the earth.
When Jesus forgave those who tormented him, when he commended himself into the hands of the heavenly Father who had forsaken him, when he said “It is finished” and breathed his last, she was there.
She came to his tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week with all that was necessary to bury him properly.  The weight of her grief was literally in her arms in the spices necessary to prepare his body. 
But when she got to the tomb, someone had stolen his body!  What other explanation could there be?!  And with that final insult to the one she loved, she broke down in tears.
“Why are you weeping?”  Who could even ask such a cruel question if they knew even just a bit of what she had been through?!  Of course she wept along with all of the countless others throughout time who have seen firsthand the judgment of God that the wages of sin is death.
The ocean could not hold all of the tears that have been shed from the beginning of time on account of what sin and death has done to this world and the lives of those who live in it!
Weeping and sorrow and tears:  over the hatred in the family of man; over the famines and floods that tear the natural world apart; at the graveside of loved ones; about our shame and guilt and failures that add to the world’s misery. 
“Why are you weeping?”  It seems like weeping is EXACTLY what was called for both then and now!  Except…
Everything had changed early that morning on the first day of the week.  Absolutely everything!  And the question was asked of Mary, and the question is asked of us, to open our eyes of faith so that we can see that tears are completely inappropriate…for the question is asked of us by the risen Christ.
The empty tomb and the heavenly angels and the risen Christ all bore witness to heaven and earth that the sin and death which brings tears to our eyes have all been defeated!  Jesus asks us in all seriousness, Why are you weeping?
Why are you weeping when death has been defeated?  Why are you weeping when your guilt and shame has been take away?  Why are you weeping when there will be a new creation?  Why are you weeping when you will live with me forever? 
Our crucified and risen Savior asked Mary that question because he wanted her to believe and trust that even living in this broken and dying world there was simply no reason for her tears.  He had died for her and been raised for her and was returning to his Father for her to rule all things in heaven and on earth for her eternal good.  So it is for us.
Why are you weeping?  There is no need and the day is coming when our risen Savior will wipe every tear from your eye.  Amen.

Jesus Died for All

Friday, March 30, 2018

Jesus Died for All

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 The Bible says that, in the beginning, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”.  Adam and Eve were mankind.  And so when they sinned, and became alienated from God, and subject to God’s judgment of “guilty” under his punishment of death--so did all mankind.
The Bible says that, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men.”  Every person in this world, by nature, is alienated from God, guilty in God’s sight, and subject to the death. 
But on this Good Friday evening, we hear the best possible news of all:  that just as far-reaching and all-encompassing are the effects of Adam’s sin upon every one of us, so the death of Jesus Christ, who is the new Adam, has paid for those sin and taken that judgment and reconciled us to God.  The Bible says:
The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
            “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only-begotten Son…”  For God so loved the world.  God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross embraces all people without exception.
Jesus went to the cross as the new Adam, representative of all people in every place and time.  He took upon himself the flesh we all bear and he lived a holy life for all people and he died a terrible death for all people and when God poured his wrath upon his son and delivered the punishment of death promised to Adam in Eden, it was all people that God was dealing with so that in Christ, every person was judged by God and punished by God. 
And so why would God send his Son to die?  Why would Christ become one of us, subject like all of us to the demands of the law, and die this terrible death under the full weight of God’s wrath?  The Bible says that:
Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 
            Our creation and our redemption has but a single purpose, that we would live with God in perfect fellowship as his children for time and eternity.  But Adam and Eve destroyed that life for themselves and us by choosing to live outside of God’s will for them.  And we, as their children, have chosen to go our own way as well. 
That is what sin is—the creature’s rebellion against the will of their Creator—creatures who can longer see or know the love and mercy of God, creatures who no longer understand that God’s will for them is an expression of his love for them, creatures who are turned in on themselves, rather than open to the love that God wants to pour out upon them.
That is why God sent his Son and not just a servant, because only God’s Son could re-make of us what God intends us to be:  his sons and daughters who live their lives for the One who died and was raised to bring them home.
And so for our sake, Christ bore our sins on the cross and died in our place.  And for our sake he was raised so that we would have the life God intends us to have, a life unbroken by death.  For our sake and for the sake of every person in the world.  The Bible says that:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
            When Paul stood in the crowd of people who were murdering Stephen for his testimony concerning Jesus, it was blind hatred that filled his heart.  He regarded Jesus as a deceiver of God’s people and an enemy that had to be destroyed.  He couldn’t see the truth about Stephen or himself and he certainly couldn’t see the truth about Jesus.
But the risen Savior met him on the road to Damascus and blinded his physical eyes with his glorious presence and opened his eyes of faith to see truth.  Paul saw that he was a sinner who needed saving and Jesus was that Savior and those Christians who ministered to him were the only ones who could show him the way of salvation.  From then on his eyes were open.
He saw that all people—without exception were loved by God.  Jew or Gentile, men or women, young or old.  Notorious sinners or notoriously self-righteous.  God loved them all and Christ died and was raised for them all so that all of them could have new life.  The Bible says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
            God loves all people and Christ died for all people and has been raised for all people so that all people might take their place in God’s family but it is only those who are IN Christ who can claim this for themselves and benefit from it.
These verses signal a major shift in in this passage from what Christ has done for all people on the cross and who actually receives the blessings of his saving work.
It is only those who are IN Christ who are new creations.  Only those who are IN Christ who can say that the old has passed away.  Only those who are IN Christ can rejoice in the good news that the guilt and shame of the past has been taken away and only those who are IN Christ can rejoice that they have a new life that death cannot claim.
Despite the all-encompassing embrace of God’s love, despite the all-sufficient merit of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, all people will not be saved-- but only those who lay hold of him by faith—which is what God wants for all people. 
And so he has given us who are IN Christ, who have laid hold of Christ by faith, the privilege and responsibility of making sure that God’s love for all people is made known in this world.  The Bible says:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
            When Paul says that “all of this is from God” that is exactly what he means!  Our salvation from beginning to end is the work of God ALONE.  God’s love-- not our worthiness sent Jesus into the world.  Christ’s death-- not our good works won salvation for us.  The Spirit’s call-- not our decision opened our hand of faith and placed us IN Christ. 
But in doing all this for us, God used means—people and places and events—to reconcile us to himself.  He used the water of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion and he especially used men and women to tell the story of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice.
Paul calls this work of telling others about Jesus “the ministry of reconciliation” and the message is this:  where before God was angry over the sins of the world, now God has been reconciled to the world, a new relationship with the world, on account of what Christ has done.
It is the ministry of saying to the world:  no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God loves you and has forgiven you in Christ.  There is no longer any reason to be afraid of God, no longer any reason to wonder what God’s attitude is towards you, because looking to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and the blood that was shed there for you can know beyond any shadow of a doubt that you are loved and you are forgiven.
And Paul says that we have been “entrusted” with that message and that ministry!  Can you imagine it!  God has entrusted you with the most important work in this world and says that you are now his “ambassadors”—that you are empowered to speak for him and represent him in this world. 
That is the difference Christ has made in your life and that is the difference that God wants to make in the life of all people.  And so then, our message to the world is this:
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
            On this Good Friday, we have once more seen by the faith, in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatness of God’s love that embraces the world through arms outstretched on the cross and the fullness of Christ’s saving work that says to every person about their sin:  It is finished!  We know that a great exchange has been made there at the cross for us and all people:  that our sins and the sins of the world were willingly borne by our Lord Jesus Christ and that his suffering and death has been counted as our own through faith and that in this great exchange, God is reconciled to all.
But there is one more thing that we need to see:  countless millions of people whose sins were forgiven at the cross, countless millions of people who are loved by God, remain dead in sin and blind to God’s love and deaf to Christ’s words, “Father, forgive them.”  That is why Paul’s message to the world is this:  We implore you, be reconciled to God! 
And so it must by our message too to those around us:  Be reconciled to God!  God loves you and the sinless Son of God has died for you. There is a place in God’s family for you.  You no longer have to be weighed down by sin and shame and guilt but instead the righteousness of God is given to you if you will only receive it in faith.
On Good Friday we are thankful beyond measure to look to our Lord Jesus Christ as he dies on the cross for us and know and believe and trust that he has done everything necessary for our salvation. 
But we also turn our eyes from the cross to the world and we see what our Lord saw from the cross:  the countless millions who do not yet know him as their Savior and wait for those who are his ambassadors to proclaim that love to them.  Amen.

Refuge in the Blood

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Refuge in the Blood

Exodus 12:1-14 When the disciples gathered in the Upper Room on this night two thousand years ago, they were no different than their fellow Jews all over the world—all of them remembered that they had been slaves and they heard the story of how the LORD graciously raised up a servant who set them free. 
They heard the story of how God struck down their enemies and how he protected his own people through the shedding of blood so that all those who took refuge under that blood were saved from God’s wrath and judgment and death.
They rejoiced that they served a living God who graciously came to save his people and they ate the meal that reminded them of all that God had done for them.
But there was an important difference for the Jewish disciples who gathered in the Upper room in the presence of Jesus. 
No longer would the story of God’s gracious deliverance be something in the past, no longer would it apply only to the Jews, but in Jesus Christ God had raised up not only a servant, but gave a Son, who would set the world free from sin and death by his own death on the cross with the promise that everyone who took refuge in his blood would be saved.  And he fed them with a new meal from the fruits of this new covenant, the same body and blood sacrificed on the cross given under bread and wine as a refuge from sins and death.   
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.
            What a blessing it must have been for the children of Israel to have God’s chosen servant stand in their midst—to know that God heard their cries and had raised up a deliverer to set them free from slavery. 
What a comfort to know that the Lord, their Savior God was with this man in a mighty way to execute God’s judgment on their enemies and set them free.
They had seen the truth of God’s promises in mighty and powerful ways in the weeks before-- as plague after plague fell upon their enemies.  And now God was about to execute the last, most terrible plague of all:  the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt who would not heed the Lord’s words of warning.  And yet the Lord would save his people as they took refuge under the blood of a lamb.
Everyone among them knew that this would be God’s work alone, that they were helpless to defeat their own enemies, helpless to set themselves free—but that victory and freedom would come as a gift from their gracious God.
So important was this understanding (that their life with God was by his grace and power alone) that their calendar would begin each year with calling these events to mind and sharing the meal that made God’s gracious salvation a present reality again and again.
So it is for us who gather here tonight.  We too tell the story of slavery to masters infinitely more powerful than Egyptians, the terrible masters of sin and death and the devil. 
We too know our helplessness in the face of these enemies and we rejoice with God’s ancient people that our Savior God hears the cries of his people and has shown his mercy by coming to our rescue. 
We too know that we have been set free by God’s grace and the meal we share tonight makes that a present reality as we partake of the sinless Lamb in whose blood we take refuge from our enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
            The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  Our life with God comes in no other way than the shedding of blood and that is the way it has always been.
Adam and Eve were restored to God by the shedding of blood.  Abel offered up an acceptable sacrifice by shedding the blood of the best of his flock.  Even before there was a tabernacle or temple, the patriarchs worshiped God by shedding the blood of innocent lambs who had committed no sin right up until this night when their descendants would be delivered from slavery in Egypt.
These sacrifices took place: so that the people of God never forgot their sin--so that the people of God ever forgot the Promise of a Savior who would shed his blood as the payment price to set people free from their sins.
And so it went in the worship life of the people of God for countless generations, right up until the night that Jesus and disciples gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate this same meal-- and tell this same gracious story of the destruction of enemies and the end of slavery. 
But this night when Jesus and the disciples gathered together was different.  It was the end of the old and the beginning of the new because of Jesus:  the One who John said was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Every lamb that had been slain before, every sacrifice that had been made before found its meaning and value and purpose and fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the perfect substitute that God himself had chosen to bear the sins of the world. 
No other sacrifice would ever need to be made, no other blood would ever need to be shed, for his blood would give shelter to all who took refuge in it.
 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.  They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.
            Throughout the land of Egypt that night, the blood a lamb without blemish was painted on the door posts and lintels in such a way that the brushstrokes resembled a cross. 
As the angel of death began to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, all of those who believed the words of d’s servant and took refuge under the blood of the lamb were spared-- and every one of the firstborn who did not take refuge under the blood died. 
All of those whom God threatened to punish were struck down because they were not found under the blood of the lamb.  That same lamb fed all the people who found refuge under his blood as a real token that they were part of the people who were saved.
So it was on the night when our Lord gathered in the upper room to institute the Sacrament of the Altar and so it is this night when we gather here to receive the meal of our Lord’s body and blood.
From sin and death we take refuge under the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
There is not the smallest part of our Lord’s life that he did not offer upon the cross-- and pour out into death-- and place into our hands and mouth tonight.  He withheld nothing from us
That same sacrifice—offered up outside the walls of Jerusalem—he places into our hands and mouths tonight to assure us that we are a part of those who are protected by his sacrifice from sin and death—and provided for in our journey to the promised land of heaven.
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
            The sacrifice of the unblemished lambs and the shedding of their blood meant one thing for the children of Israel:  freedom!  No longer would they live and die in slavery.  No longer would their children have no hope and no future.  No longer would they be subject to a master who cared only for their destruction. 
They were the children of God who saved them and protected them and delivered them by the shedding of blood-- and they were to eat the fruit of that saving work in the flesh of the lamb who died to protect them from the wrath of God and the angel of death.
Everything about the meal that night spoke of the freedom that was at hand—the bread without yeast, their dress for travel, and the complete consumption of the meal.  All of this a sign that, set free from slavery, they would go forth in that moment as God’s redeemed people, headed to the Promised Land, protected and provided for by their same Savior God.
So it is for us here tonight.  Jesus Christ was that lamb without blemish who was sacrificed for us.  His shed blood on the cross is painted upon us as we are marked with the cross in Holy Baptism and buried and raised with Christ.  And from that night to this very moment, the wrath of God passes over all of those take refuge in that sacrifice.
That lamb offered upon the cross, whose blood was shed, God still provides as a meal for his pilgrim people.  We are free!  We are forgiven!  But we are not yet home and so we eat this meal knowing that we must leave this place and travel through the wilderness of this world to the Promised Land. 
As we take refuge in the blood of the Lamb, we have God’s own promise that he will protect us and provide for us just as he always has and so that we might strengthened in this faith he calls upon us to gather together --and remember what he has done for us-- and tell the story of his saving love-- and partake of the flesh and blood that is our refuge.  Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Jesus Is Our King

Matthew 21:1-9 During the Lenten season our focus as Christians is especially on the works of Jesus in his suffering and death and resurrection for our salvation. 
We rejoice in the Good News we heard in our epistle lesson, that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”.  We recognize that this is the central teaching of all of Holy Scripture.  We remember that it is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.
            But it is also important for us to remember, recognize and rejoice in the fact that Jesus is not only our Savior who laid down his life for us—he is also our risen, ascended exalted King who has an absolute right to rule our lives:  each and every part of our lives —each and every day of our lives.
            And so today, as we join our voices to the citizens of Jerusalem and welcome the king who comes to die for us, I want to talk first about the reign of Jesus as King over our lives-- and secondly what kind of King we have in him. 
The Bible says that when Jesus and the disciples drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them:
Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.  Untie them and bring them to me…and the disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.
            Up until this moment, the disciples’ track record when it came to obedience, was not always everything it should have been.  But this time, at least two of them got it right—Jesus the king commanded and his servants obeyed.  This is to be the pattern for our lives as his people.
            Jesus has a right to command (and expect) obedience from his disciples-both then and now.  It is his word and will that is to have the final say in our lives because he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
And yet, truth be told, we forget that he is our king whose lordship extends over every part of our life. 
Much too often, we do what our king has commanded us not to do.  We avoid doing what our king has commanded us to do.  We find that often times in our lives there is no submission to his will and no obedience to his word. Why is that?
            At least part of the answer is ignorance-we don’t know what the Scriptures say because we don’t avail ourselves of every opportunity to read and hear and learn them. 
And yet, just like in the courts of our land, so in the courts of our King—ignorance of the law is no defense.  The King has spoken—his word is readily available in the Bible -- and it is our duty to hear it, learn it, and obey it.
Jesus expects be us to life-long learners when it comes to his Word—that we  would hold his Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it--reading our bibles at home and making Bible class a regular part of our Lord’s Day worship so that we know what God’s Word actually says about how we are to live our lives.
Obedience to our King begins with knowing his will that is written in his Word.
            Second of all, Jesus our King has a right to our possessions.  Everything we have—he has given us—we are simply stewards of what he has placed into our hands, none of which we can lay claim to and say “mine” and have it be so. 
The two disciples that Jesus sent on into Jerusalem were charged with finding a donkey for the Lord’s entry into the holy city—an animal that belonged to someone else.  If the owner said anything about Jesus’ request, they were to:  tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them at once. 
            We don’t know who owned that donkey the Lord rode into Jerusalem on-- but we do know it was enough for him to know that the Lord had need of it.  He understood that he was merely the caretaker of what actually belonged to the King.
The Bible says that, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” and so Jesus our King has a perfect right to all that we have-- for all of it belongs to him.  We are only stewards of what belongs to the Lord.
            No less now than then, the Lord has need of what we mistakenly call “mine”.  The work of the Gospel in this place is supported entirely by the gifts God’s people give in grateful response to God’s love in Jesus Christ. 
Unfortunately, too many of God’s people do not have the generous attitude of the owner of the donkey and simply say “no” to the Lord when he asks us to support his saving mission from our tithes and offerings.
            This should not be.  Jesus our King asks for only a small portion of the first-fruits of what he has already given to us and so we are to give generously as our Lord commands because it belongs to the King.
            Thirdly, our King Jesus has a right to expect that we will participate in some way (whether big or small) in his mission. 
Jesus needed two of his disciples to fetch the donkey that day.  He needed the owner of the donkey to give it into the Lord’s service.  Later that week he would need his disciples to find and prepare a room for the Passover meal.  Our Lord needed Simon to help carry his cross.  He needed the faithful women to tell of his resurrection. 
The King’s mission of mercy and forgiveness (that was about to reach its fulfillment in the cross and empty tomb) needed these workers if it was to take place—and they were blessed to have a part in the King’s saving mission.
            That is still true today—the Lord needs you to be involved in his mission. The Bibles says that:  we are salt and light in this dark and dying world to make the world a better place and reveal the presence and purpose of our King—we are a kingdom of priests called to serve others and pray for the lost—we are ambassadors of the King through whom he makes his appeal to the world to come to him and be saved. 
This is not my opinion about who you are.  This is what the King has made you to be in Holy Baptism-- and what the King says about you in his Word-- and he has a right to expect our service in the work of his kingdom on earth.
            Besides our serious responsibilities as Christians in the context of our vocations as parents and citizens and workers and students, each of us has an important role to play in in the mission of the King in this part of his kingdom. 
And so when I ask for your help, I am not asking for myself-- but I am asking on behalf of the King.  Each of us ought to be doing something with the time and talent that God has given us to build up the kingdom of Jesus in this place. 
Finally, our King Jesus has the right to our worship.  The Bible says that:
A crowd spread their cloaks on the road and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”
            On any given Sunday, about half of the people of Trinity Lutheran Church make a conscious decision not to worship the Lord.  On Wednesday evenings it is even smaller percentage who worship the King.
            And while I cannot call everyone to ask them what they regarded as more important than assembling together to worship their King, let there be no doubt-- that the question does not remain unasked.
The Lord asks it of each of us:  “Where were you when the people of God came together to worship me”?  To go week after week without worshiping (as so many do) is nothing less than rebellion against the King’s command.
            When we remember and recognize that:   Jesus has a right to our obedience—he has a right to our possessions—he has a right to expect that we will do our duty in his kingdom—he has a right to our worship—then the cries of the people of Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday become our own:  “Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!” 
            Lord, save us!  Lord, save us from our disobedience to your word!  Save us from our lack of reverent submission to your will!  Save us from our refusal to acknowledge every day, in every way, your rightful rule over our lives as our one true king! 
Lord, save us!  And so he does—for our King is a Savior who comes to us to lay down his life for us and make a place for us in his kingdom.  Our King is a Savior whose crown is not gold but thorns.  Our King is a Savior whose throne is a cross.  The Bible says that the events of Palm Sunday
Took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king come to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.
Just as then, so today, we have before us a day of the King’s gentle grace—a day to acknowledge and confess that we have not always been obedient subjects in Jesus’ kingdom—a day to praise him that he does not come to us in terror and judgment as we deserve—but comes to us in gentleness, bearing the gifts of forgiveness and mercy that he won for us at the cross.
            For the sake of his disobedient servants, the King became an obedient servant and died our death.  It is the blood he shed upon Calvary that is the new covenant between God and us—a covenant of peace for all nations through faith in Jesus—a covenant we receive today at this altar in Holy Communion. The Lord told Zechariah:
Because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.  Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope, today I declare that I will restore to you double.
            On Palm Sunday, our King comes to us, not to impose his will upon us by force-- or to compel our obedience--or demand some tribute.  No!  Our King comes to us to save us from the dark pit of death--and give us hope in the midst of our sins-- and restore to us all that Satan has taken from us. 
Because this is the kind of King we have in Jesus—one who is gentle and humble—we will gladly kneel before him in grateful obedience and confess to the world that he is not only our Savior but also our King.  May God grant that it would always be so in our lives!  Amen.