Thursday, January 21, 2016

Jesus in Worship, As Was His Custom

Luke 4:16-30 The scene that we have before us in our Gospel lesson is a mirror image of what we are doing right here and now:  the Lord’s people gathered in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day in the presence of the Lord to hear the Lord’s Word.  And so…
What we’re going to do this morning is a little “people-watching” at the folks in Nazareth and their worship service and see if there is anything that we can learn about ourselves at worship. 
As we do that I want you to think about these questions:  Where should I be on the Lord’s Day?  What should I hear on the Lord’s Day?  And how should I respond to what I hear on the Lord’s Day?  The Bible says that:
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day
            Throughout the Bible we see Jesus taking an active part in the worship life of the people of God as was his Father’s will: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.  This is the commandment of Almighty God and it extends to every person.  Jesus—born under the Law just as we were—kept that commandment faithfully. 
We get upset about the sexual immorality of our culture and the murder of unborn children and the greed inherent in our economic system—and we ought to—for these sins are abominations in the sight of Almighty God.  But we get a lot quieter when it comes to the Third Commandment that deals with our life of worship. 
We would never think about saying that a little bit of adultery or a little bit of murder or a little bit of stealing is no big deal.  But we bend over backwards to find a way to excuse those who break the Third Commandment—especially when they are our friends and family and fellow church members.
Luther’s Small Catechism says that to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy means that we will fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  The judgment of God is this:  those who do not worship, do not fear God or love God-- but instead, despise preaching and His Word.  That is a hard judgment!
That is why this first verse of our text is such Good News for us:  that Jesus always gave his heavenly Father the worship that is his due-- and that through faith in Jesus—his faithfulness and righteousness is counted as our own in place of all those times we have not worshiped God as we ought—whether in church or absent. 
That gift calls for our praise and thanksgiving and brings us to the Lord’s house to worship.  And so what should we hear when we come to worship?  The Bible says:
Jesus stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 
            First of all, when you come to the Lord’s house you ought to hear the Lord’s Word.  Then and now—that is the heart of  worship and the purpose for being in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day—to hear the Lord’s Word preached and taught. 
Now this may seem like something that doesn’t need to be said—but it does-- because the day that God warned us about (when people will accumulate teachers who will tell them what their ears want to hear) is upon us. 
In so many sermons today you will hear amusing anecdotes and inspiring stories --there is talk about self-esteem and the positive thinking—but there is very little Bible.
The purpose of worship is to hear the Word of God.  And so if you hear some sermon where the pastor begins with the text and then you never hear it again and wonder to yourself “what does this have to do with the reading”—that pastor has failed to follow the example of Jesus in preaching the Word!
But there is even more that we ought to expect when it comes to what we hear in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day.  We should expect to hear about the person and work of Jesus Christ—that he alone is our salvation!  The Bible says that:
Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus took the Bible in his hand, read it to the people, and proclaimed himself the fulfillment of it—that he was the one who would set the prisoner free and give sight to the blind and bestow God’s favor.  He was the fulfillment of God’s saving promises!
That is what every preacher must do:  preach Christ crucified for the sins of the world because if you have not heard that, you have not heard a Christian sermon.
The Bible has one subject and that is Jesus Christ and he must be proclaimed in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day.  The Bible has one story and that is the Good News of salvation and it must be told in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day. 
Jesus Christ was chosen by his heavenly Father, sent into this dying world, and anointed with the Holy Spirit so that by his death and resurrection we would be free from our sins—so that death would not be the end of us—so that our eyes of faith could be opened to the Good News that there is a God who loves us with an everlasting love. 
That message can only be found in the Lord’s house and it ought to be heard each Lord’s Day.  And so what should our response be to that message?  The Bible says that:
All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.
            Each Sunday we hear God speak to us in Holy Absolution and forgive us our sins.  He speaks to us in the lessons that are read and the sermon that is preached so that we would know his will for our life and his forgiveness when we fail.  His Son gives us his body and blood in Holy Communion and says “given for you” and “shed for you” to assure us that the sacrifice of Calvary was for us personally and individually.  These gracious words are to be received in faith!
The people that day in Nazareth marveled to hear the words of life and salvation that Jesus preached-- and so should we.  In the words of that old spiritual we ought to be glad each Lord’s Day to hear that “old, old story of Jesus and his love”. 
But of course we know that not everyone is—that there are those who reject the gifts of salvation given in the Lord’s house just like those in Nazareth that day who said:
“Is not this Joseph's son?” And Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.
            There were those that day who rejected the message because they rejected the messenger:  “Who does this Jesus think he is?”  “We knew him when he was just a boy!”   
There are still those who reject God’s Word because they reject his messengers.  The man who stands in the pulpit of the Christian church has been called by the Holy Spirit for one purpose:  to speak forth God’s Word, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 
That we don’t like his style or personality or the way he cuts his hair has absolutely nothing to do with anything --and so long as he speaks forth God’s Word (calling us to repentance and faith in Jesus) we are to listen to him and believe what he says.
But not only did those there that day reject Jesus because of who he was, they rejected him for his message.  The two examples that Jesus gave from the days of Elijah and Elisha were intended as a sharp rebuke and a hard preaching of the Law—to warn them that unbelief had consequences—that God would reject those who rejected him.
This message was not well received and they reacted with fury and so it still is today when the law is preached. 
We are perfectly happy to hear a sermon where the sins of others are pointed out but then we hear a sermon that cuts to the heart of something in our life that is not right.  It could be anything thing—but God’s Word has come close to home and rather than acknowledging our sin and repenting of it—we make excuses and justify ourselves and reject God’s messenger and his message.
If that is where you find yourself this morning you need to take this scene to heart and not let this day pass without confessing your sins, receiving Christ’s forgiveness, and making amends for your mistakes by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
We don’t know if those folks ever got another opportunity-- but that was a day of salvation for them just as this day is for us-- and we must not let it pass us by without responding to what we have heard in repentant faith. 
By our heavenly Father’s wise leading we have been brought to the Lord’s house this Lord’s Day.  We have heard the voice of Jesus promising us that he has come to open our eyes of faith and set us free from our sins and grant us God’s favor now and forever.
And so let us respond to those gracious words with praise and thanksgiving and the worship of heart and minds and voices that stand in awe of his great mercies.  Amen.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Baptism of God's Beloved Son

Luke 3:15-22 At the public examination I will ask the children these questions:  What is the difference between the Old Testament and the News Testament?  And they will answer:  The Old Testament tells of the coming of Christ and the New Testament tells of his life and promise to return.  And then I will ask:  What is the key to understanding the Holy Scriptures?  And they will answer:  Jesus Christ.  And they will be correct. 
The whole Bible—from Genesis in the beginning to Revelation at the end-- tells but one story and that is the story of Jesus Christ. 
He is the Offspring of the Woman who will crush Satan that God promised to Adam and Eve.  It is his sacrifice on the cross that all of the animal sacrifices pointed to.  It is his saving work that is revealed as the children of Israel are shielded from death and set free from slavery in Egypt and delivered safely to the Promised Land.  It is his final judgment on the Last Day that is shown in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  And it is his baptism that is revealed in the waters of the flood of Noah’s day which both buried and lifted to safety.
The Bible tells just one story—whether it is the promise in the Old Testament or the fulfillment in the New Testament-- and it is the story of Jesus.  The exact point where promise and fulfillment come together is revealed in our text today as Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by his forerunner John the Baptist.  St. Luke writes that:
…when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened,  and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
            That Jesus is the subject of all Scripture—that the Bible tells just one story that is his story—that the only difference between the Old Testament and the New is where they stand in relation to Jesus- is not just a pious opinion—it is the testimony of the one, true Triune God.  
            When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove and the heavenly Father publicly testified that Jesus was his Son.  It’s like a big neon Trinitarian arrow in the sky above Jesus’ head that shines so brightly that it lights up the past and the future and says:  this is the One!  This the one I promised!   
This is the one I have chosen to accomplish my saving work.  That is why the Holy Spirit was there:  to anoint Jesus as prophet, priest and king for his saving work.
In the Old Testament God’s servants were anointed with oil to set them apart for their work:  prophets to speak God’s Word- priests to offer sacrifices to God for man’s sins-and kings to rule God’s people—all of them pointing to various aspects of the work of the Messiah.
In Jesus Christ these three offices came together.  Oil was wholly insufficient for this anointing and so he was anointed with the Spirit.  When Jesus began his ministry he said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives…to give sight to the blind”  
This was the work of the Messiah and as Jesus stood in the waters of the Jordan River Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled and Jesus was publicly set aside for that saving work.
That is what God wants us to know and believe and so heaven is opened and we see the Spirit’s anointing and hear the Father’s testimony that this Jesus is wholly different than every servant of God who has come before-- because he is God’s Son.  St. Luke writes that:
…the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,  John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  
God appointed Noah as a preacher of righteousness before the flood.  He made a covenant to bless the world through Abraham.  He raised-up Moses to set his people free.  And the foundation of the church is built upon the apostles. 
John the Baptist stood among these great servants of God (and indeed was the greatest of all by Jesus’ own testimony) but none of them compared to Jesus for he was God’s own Son.  John recognized this about himself—that his one purpose was to bear witness to Jesus Christ. 
Here is the key to humility!  Here is the key to understanding our purpose in the world!  When we are focused on Jesus and when we find our meaning in him-- genuine humility and clarity of purpose cannot help but follow. 
To know Jesus for who he is—God in flesh—is to know the truth about ourselves:  that the greatest honor on earth is to count ourselves his servants who are content with the lowliest tasks so long as they are directed towards Jesus. 
We see that humility throughout the Bible in those who had faith.  Elizabeth was honored to have the pregnant Mary come to her home.  Mary praised God because he looked upon her humble estate and blessed her with a child.  The kings knelt in worship beside Jesus’ bed.   
Only when we know Jesus and what he has done for us can we have a proper view of ourselves and our own place in the world and our purpose in life.
John’s work was important:  to call sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus--and that work of the pastoral office is still important and necessary.  But it pales in comparison to what Jesus would do in his work as the Savior of the world.  John the Baptist said that Jesus would:
…baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
            John was already looking forward to Pentecost when the ascended Savior would pour out his Spirit (just as he had promised) on the young and old—on men and women—so that all people could hear and believe and bear witness to his saving work. 
Sins had been paid for on the cross.  Life had been promised at the empty tomb.  Eternity in heaven was guaranteed by Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God. 
All that was left was the gift of the Spirit for faith and proclamation and so on Pentecost Jesus sent the Spirit as a mighty wind and tongues of flame above the heads of his disciples and the message of salvation went forward and thousands came to faith in Jesus that day and are still coming to faith in Jesus in a great harvest of souls.
This is the best possible news for us and for all who are being saved by faith but it is also a warning to those who do not believe.  The same Jesus who entered the Jordan River and identified with our sin—the same Jesus whose blood has washed away those sins—the same Jesus who has given the Spirit so that we might believe this and be saved—is also the same Jesus who will judge the world.
The wheat—that is those believers who produced the fruit of faith will be gathered safely into their eternal home with God—but the chaff, those who did not bear the fruit of faith because of their unbelief will be burned forever in the flames of hell. 
Many, even in the church, deny hell and deem it unworthy of a merciful God.  But the Bible is perfectly clear that hell exists and that Jesus himself will send people there to be tormented forever by fire.
Eternal salvation was what was at stake there along the Jordan River and that is why there was the heartfelt plea of John to repent of sin and look to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 
Eternal salvation is still at stake here at this font and pulpit and altar.  That is why we baptize and commune and preach and absolve.  That is what this place exists for no less than the banks of the Jordan River and the Upper Room and the mount where Jesus preached.  That is why we generously support the mission and ministry of this congregation—because eternity itself is at stake—and there is plenty of opposition in the world around us.  St. Luke wrote that:
…Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. 
             Many, many people are confused about what to expect from the Christian life.  Their own flesh wants them to believe that it is about getting what you want in this life and having eternity thrown in as a prize at the end and there are plenty of false prophets in the church today who will tell them just exactly what their itching ears want to hear.  
            But the Christian life is actually a battle and the Bible never hides that truth.  Jesus said that we are to take up our cross and follow him.  Peter said that we shouldn’t be surprised at the fiery trial we undergo.  Paul told us that there is a battle within us between what our flesh wants to do and what the new man in us wants to do as a child of God.
The Christian life is a battle against the world, our flesh, and the devil and it has always been!  John the Baptist was the greatest man who ever lived and yet the end of his life of service to the cause of Christ was persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom.  How can it not be so!
In Holy Baptism we are crucified with Christ and raised with Christ and called to walk in newness of life.  This newness of life is a rebuke of the ways of the world and a denial of that all that they value.  How can the world not be opposed to Christ and his people!?
But those who are baptized into Christ Jesus and walk in his ways know that the words spoken about Jesus by his Father:  “This is my beloved Son.  With him I am well pleased” are also spoken about us and we too have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and that gives us the strength we need to carry on as his people.  Amen.