Thursday, March 30, 2017

There is No Condemnation for Those in Christ!

Romans 8:1-11 All of us can look back upon our lives with at least some regret.  There were opportunities to do good for others that we missed out on and will never get back.  There were harsh words we have spoken that will never be forgotten.  There were decisions we made that still have painful consequences today.  And there were wrongs that we have done that still haunt us.  All of us can look back upon our lives with regrets. 
The truth of the matter is that we don’t have to look back very far at all.  Within us is a daily struggle to do and say and think what is pleasing to our heavenly Father—a struggle in which we don’t always succeed. 
These regrets over the sins of the past --and this present struggle against the flesh—are nothing new and we are not alone in them. 
Before Paul became a Christian, he was persecutor of Christ and his people.  He had plenty of regrets about the past.  He also experienced the ongoing struggles of being a child of God trying to live a life of faithfulness each day while burdened with the flesh and tempted by the devil.
In the chapter preceding our text today he talks about that struggle:  not doing the good he wanted-- but doing the evil he didn’t want to do.  Every Christian can understand his struggle and can add their voice to his as he says:  What a wretched person I am.  Who will set me free?  When it comes to past regrets and present struggles, life seems so hopeless at times!  But it’s not! 
The Good News for us is that Christ has set us free from the condemnation of our sins—past and present.  He sets us free to live a new life empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit.  And he sets us free from the fear of death and the grave.  The Bible says:
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 
            It is an unchangeable law of God that death is the punishment for sin.  God told Adam and Eve that the day they ate of the forbidden tree they would die.  The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that the wages of sin is death.  Death always follows sin.
In our Old Testament lesson today, the LORD brings Ezekiel out into the midst of a great valley filled with human bones—representing the whole house of Israel—their lack of faith and their loss of hope and their spiritual death--and the LORD asks Ezekiel:  “Can these bones live”?  In other words, is there any hope for people when the sins of the past and the failures of the present have brought them spiritual death? 
When we look at our own lives—our past failures and our present struggles, we can’t help but ask the same thing.  Because of our sins and our doubts and our unceasing daily struggle against the world, our flesh, and the devil we too can say with Israel“Our bones are dried up—our hope is lost—we are clean cut off!  Can these bones live?”  In other words, is there any hope for us?  God says:  yes!
            The Good News for us today- just like it was all those years ago for the Israelites- is that what the Law cannot do in us (that is make us into new, living, people who are right in God’s sight) God has graciously done for us—lifting the condemnation that we justly deserve for the sins of the past and our failures of today. 
When the LORD asked Ezekiel about the possibility of dry bones coming to life, Ezekiel wisely referred the question back to the LORD because if there was any hope for life for them, it would have to come from God alone. 
And that is what we see as that great valley of death becomes a place of life by the power of the Holy Spirit—a dramatic, visible picture of God himself setting us free from sin and death and breathing new, spiritual life into us. 
God says:  I will cause breath to enter you—I will open your graves—I will put my Spirit in you.  Just as in the beginning (when God was the one who breathed life into the man he had formed from the earth) so in the same way God alone is responsible for breathing new, spiritual life into us.  The Bible says that:
 God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…
In his real human flesh, Jesus fulfilled every righteous requirement of the law for us.  In his real human flesh nailed upon the cross, God condemned every sin of every person who has lived or ever will live.  In his real human flesh he was raised from the dead.
In his real human flesh—in his life and death and resurrection—Christ set us free from the condemnation of the law-- and from the burden of our past --and gave us new life.
Our past failures and our current struggles are a powerful condemnation of our sinful flesh, but God’s condemnation of sin in the perfectly holy flesh of his Son Jesus Christ crucified on the cross is more powerful still. 
And he gives this to us as a gift in Word and Sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit who not only sets us free from condemnation of the past and the burden of the present--but he also sets us free and empowers us to live a new and different kind of life.  The Bible says that:
Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 
            Those who believe in Jesus Christ—those who, as St. Paul says,  set their mind on the Spirit—are the only ones who can lay claim to the promises that there is no condemnation for them.  Believers are the only ones whose lives are filled with joy and peace because they know that they are forgiven and death is a conquered enemy. 
But those who walk according to the flesh—those whose minds are fixed upon satisfying the lusts of the flesh—those who continue to live unrepentant, sinful lives in open hostility to God, earn for themselves eternal death-- because it is impossible for a person who does not have faith in Jesus Christ to please God and live according to his will.  The Bible says that:
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  
Those without the Holy Spirit—those who do not believe in Jesus-- see God’s law as a terrible imposition upon them—they see it as nothing but condemnation—they see it as a terrible judge from which there is no escape.  And in all of this they are correct for it cannot be otherwise. 
For those who do not have the forgiveness of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—a holy God and his will for their lives will always be a terror for them.
But we do not know God that way.  Through faith in Jesus we know God as our loving heavenly Father and we submit to his law not as some terrible burden or unwelcome imposition—but as a glorious opportunity to show that we are his children by living our lives like Jesus until that day we go to our heavenly home.  The Bible says that:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal
            There is an inescapable connection between sin and death and all of us will die some day if the Lord does not come first.  It’s been that way since the time of our first parents.  It was that way in Bethany when Lazarus breathed his last. 
When Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus had already been dead for days and as devoutly as Mary and Martha believed in the Lord—to see their brother rise from the dead seemed beyond hope.  But when Jesus called out to him, “Lazarus, come out!”—he rose from the dead and came out of his grave. 
The fact that Lazarus had been dead for days was absolutely no impediment to the One who is in himself the resurrection and the life.  Neither is four decades or four centuries or four thousand years.  The grave could not hold Jesus and it will not hold those in whom Jesus lives by his Spirit.
Yes, our bodies are as good as dead because of sin—we have a daily reminder of that in our struggle against our flesh.  But these same bodies, now broken by sin, will be raised from the grave on the Last Day, never to die again-- by the power of the same Spirit who raised Jesus’ body from the grave. 
Just as there is an inescapable connection between our sin and death-- so there is an even greater connection between Jesus’ resurrection and our eternal life. 
The Good News for us today, even as we look back at the past with regrets—even as we experience the struggles against the sinful flesh right now-- and even as we face our own death in the future-- is that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

There is no condemnation because Jesus: has set us free from our sins (past and present)—set us free to lead holy lives right now empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit—and has set us free forever from the power of death.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  Amen.

Repent! Turn to Jesus; He Changes Your Life!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Repent! Turn to Jesus; He Changes Your Life!

Luke 7:44-50 In our midweek sermon last week we mentioned that Jesus never drew back from sinners or kept them at arms’ length but reached out to them and spoke to them and cared for them and we see that same thing before us tonight in the home of Simon the Pharisee.  
This was an enemy of Jesus—someone who opposed his mission—someone who would work to convict him unjustly and judge him worthy of death. 
And yet, Jesus loved him and accepted an invitation to come to his house and share a meal in the hopes that he could convince Simon and the other religious leaders there that day to repent of their self-righteousness and receive his forgiveness.
There was someone else there that who stuck out like a sore thumb.  The Pharisees and other religious leader—even if they were self-righteous—were still outwardly righteous.  And Jesus, of course was so holy that no one could bring a charge against him later on at his religious trial but had to twist and distort and lie about what he had preached.
But there at Simon’s house, in the very midst of that serious and upright occasion, with the religious leaders gathered together and Jesus as honored guest, was what Luke calls “a woman of the city, who was a sinner”
While her sins are not specifically mentioned, that she was “a woman of the city”—a woman belonging to the city—we can begin to get a sense of what she was.
That notorious sinner stood before Jesus, so close to him that her tears wet his feet, and she fell to her knees and began to wipe his feet with her hair and kissed them and took a jar of ointment that she had brought with her and anointed his feet.
Keeping a safe distance from that dramatic display of emotion—standing at arm’s length from this sinner who needed forgiveness and a new life, was Simon and the other religious leaders who were watching closely and saying to themselves: 
If this Jesus really was a prophet, he would know who was touching him.  In other words, if Jesus really was who he said he was—the Messiah, he would never allow that woman to get with 1000 feet of him-- much less close enough to wet his feet with her tears.  He would never let that sinner touch him—much less bend down at this feet and dry them with her hair and anoint them with ointment
I want you to picture that scene in your mind’s eye because it really does set the stage for what happens next.  Jesus turned to the woman and “said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”   I just love that!  Of course he saw her!  Everyone in the room saw her!  By this time half the community knew she was there!  Do you see this woman?
Jesus asked this question in the same way as God asked Adam and Eve in the garden “Where are you?”  Of course God knew where they were but he wanted them to have an opportunity to confess what they had done and receive God’s forgiveness--just like Jesus did for Simon.  Simon, do you see this woman?
But not only had Simon seen her—he saw an opportunity in her.  He didn’t see a woman who was broken and in pain--or someone who needed forgiveness-- or someone looking to make a change from a life of sin like a religious leader ought to do. 
He saw her as the Pharisees so often saw women and the weak and children and the broken—as a prop—a tool to make a point against Jesus --and in this he was like every other man she had known who regarded her, not as human, but something to be used. 
Simon thought that he would use her as an object lesson to show that Jesus was not at all who he claimed to be-- because he couldn’t see the truth about this woman and her sins.  But of course Jesus knew about her sins—it’s why he had come into this world in the first place, to forgive sinners and give them a new life.
But there was only one person there that day who, seeing what was right before his eyes, was still blind to the truth—the truth about himself—and that was Simon. 
Last Sunday we heard Jesus say to the Pharisees that he had come into the world for judgment, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. 
Simon couldn’t see the truth about Jesus- or the truth about the woman- and he couldn’t see the truth about himself-- and so he was the one who stood there spiritually blind in God’s sight—he was the one who was guilty--not this sinful woman and certainly not Jesus. 
And so Jesus took the object lesson that Simon himself had chosen and used it against Simon so that he could see the truth about himself—so that his sin-blindness could be healed.  Jesus told him:
I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
            The kinds of things that Jesus mentions were the everyday, ordinary acts of hospitality that any decent person would offer to a guest.  They weren’t heroic acts of faith-- but the simple things you would do to welcome a guest—things that anyone could do if they were a decent human being-- to say nothing of a believer.
But Simon had offered Jesus none of them.  And as one after the other was omitted, it was one slap in the face of Jesus after another, done by this religious leader who thought himself better than everyone else in the room.
Simon wanted to use the woman as an object lesson to show everyone in the room just exactly who Jesus was (or wasn’t) as the case may be.  And the woman did serve as a lesson—but as a lesson showing what kind of sinner Simon was-- and the kind of difference Jesus had made in the worst of sinners-- who was changed forever by his forgiveness.
The forgiven woman who saw Jesus for who he was—the God who is to be worshiped--stood in stark contrast to the self-righteous, sin-blinded Pharisee and went far and above anything that was demanded of her as a courtesy: she poured out her love in tears-- and showed her gratitude in her gift-- and her desire to serve in wiping Jesus’ feet. 
This was a woman whose life had been changed by the forgiveness of Jesus and she showed that change in her life by her deeds of love.  So it is for all of us.  Jesus said: 
I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
The greatness of the forgiveness she had received was demonstrated in the greatness of the love she gave-- and so just the opposite was true for Simon and his lack of love—that he had no love to give because he had received no forgiveness.
Now, it’s not as if Simon didn’t need great forgiveness-- and it’s not as if Jesus would not grant great forgiveness (even to this Pharisee who hated him) but Simon didn’t think he needed it and he certainly wouldn’t humble himself to admit it. 
That’s why Jesus had to show him the truth about himself reflected in the love and faith of the woman who had been saved from sin and changed for eternity.
And so what about us here tonight?  Do we find ourselves in the place of the woman of the city who threw caution to the wind and cast herself on the mercy of Jesus and whose life was changed forever because of it?  Do our lives of loving service and sacrifice show that we understand the greatness of the forgiveness we have received? 
Or do we find ourselves in the place of Simon, looking good on the outside, standing in judgment of others and their sins, still maintaining our precious dignity, but with no real change in our lives because we are not willing to receive Christ’s forgiveness? 
What a blessing it is to know that, to the self-righteous-- and the sinner-- Christ says the same thing:  “Your sins are forgiven.” Your sins, great and small, known and unknown by those around you, are forgiven. 
Christ speaks those words to all of here tonight---to the sinner and to the self-righteous—words empowered by his death and resurrection-- and they are true and they have the power to forgive us and fill our hearts with love and change us forever.
But who is it that is able to receive them and be changed by them?  It is the one who can answer this question posed by those around the table:  “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
            That is the question all right and the answer of faith is given by the man who was healed of his blindness we heard about on Sunday and the woman who was forgiven of her sin that we learned about tonight is that this Jesus of Nazareth is truly God for only God can heal and forgive and change lives forever—and that’s exactly what happened in the home of Simon the Pharisee.
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  As we have talked about over the last several weeks in Church and Bible class, this woman’s faith saved her, not because it was sincere (though it was!), not because it was filled with love (though it was!), this woman’s faith saved her because of the One she believed in.  And she left Jesus’ presence in peace.
In the Bible that word means, not just the absence of conflict, but wholeness.  And that is exactly what happened.  Her sin were taken away.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She was not a child of God.  She was changed forever.  She was whole and right and free.

And that is the promise for every one of us assembled here tonight.  That we can turn to Jesus and repent of our sins and receive his forgive us and be changed forever and made whole.  May God grant it to us for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

You Are Light in the Lord

Ephesians 5:8-14 At one time you were darkness…” With those simple words- and with that powerful image -Paul conveys the terrible truth about the plight of mankind apart from God:  darkness --and along with it-- despair and death. 
It has become fashionable in our day and time (when speaking of the human condition) to talk about moral ambiguities-- and shades of gray--and different perspectives and experiences and values.  The average person on the street when asked about their relationship with God will freely admit that of course they are no Mother Teresa but neither are they an Adolf Hitler --and so they ought to make it into heaven.
But the bible knows absolutely nothing of a moral middle ground where the vast majority of “pretty good” human beings supposedly reside.  Biblically, there are ONLY two options for humanity when it comes to our standing before God:  darkness or light. 
The painful, frightening truth, is that every person who is born into this world—while biologically alive—is born spiritually dead—lost in the darkness of unbelief-- and unless rescued from that darkness—unless the Light of the Lord shines upon them—they will remain there in darkness and death for eternity. 
That is the dark shadow of death that the devil’s deception in the garden has cast over all humanity-- and we were all at one time a part of it.
We tend to forget that.  Most of us were born to Christian parents, raised in the Christian faith, and we are believing members of the church today.  In our memory, there never was a time that we were anything other than what we are now: alive in the light of the Lord.  Praise the Lord for that godly heritage!
But there are those who have experienced the truth of what Paul is talking about:  those who were adult converts to the Christian faith and lived the great part of their life in sin and unbelief—those who were raised in a Christian home and fell away from the faith in unholy living only to return to the light of the Lord as adults—those who sat in church pews as hypocrites before coming to faith. 
These folks know by experience the truth of which Paul speaks concerning the tragic spiritual darkness of mankind apart from Christ.  For the rest of us, we will simply have to believe what God’s Word says about us—that we were at one time:  darkness. 
It is important to remember where we came from because forgetting how desperate our plight was as we were born into this world—we will never fully realize the wonder and glory of what has followed—that now we are “light in the Lord”  because “God…called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 
Whether it was in the first few weeks of our life when our parents brought us to the waters of Holy Baptism-- or whether it was in childhood and a friend brought us to Sunday School or VBS and we heard about Jesus for the first time in our lives--or whether it was later on in life through the preaching of the Gospel or the witness of a friend—Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, shone into our sin-darkened lives and dispelled the dark shadow of death.  The Bible says:
“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”  Imagine how someone rescued from being lost in a dark cave must feel!  Imagine how the African slaves felt on the day of their emancipation!  Imagine how someone who receives a new organ must feel towards the donor!  And these priceless gifts of rescue and freedom and light benefit us only in this life.
How much greater and enduring is what Christ has done for us:  rescuing us from the darkness of death by his resurrection—setting us free from sin by his death on the cross—enlightening our heart and mind by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament so that now:  “You ARE light in the Lord.” 
Please note:  the Bible does not say:  “you must be light!”--“you ought to be light!”--“you should try to be light!”  Instead, you are “light in the Lord”.  That is your baptismal identity and your purpose in life-- is to let the light of Jesus Christ shine through you in all that you say and do. 
Because we are light in the Lord, the Bible says that we are to, “Walk as children of light”
The light and life of Jesus Christ THAT has shone into our lives, dispelling the darkness of sin and death--is now to shine from our lives into a sin-darkened world.  Our lives- and how we live them-our attitudes and priorities-- are to be a reflection of the light of Christ that has shined upon us. 
And so what does this kind of shining life look like against the dark shadows of this dying world?  It has two parts---things that we are to do and things to avoid.  First of all it is a life that bears abundant spiritual fruit.  The bible says, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
As those who have been called out of darkness into light, our perspective has changed and our eyes have been opened.  We see things differently than we did before.
Now we want to please God and do his will and so our entire lives are devoted to bringing glory to God in all that we say and do—asking ourselves in every moment and circumstance and decision:  is this pleasing to the Lord?  Does it serve others?  Will it bring glory to God?
That is what Paul is talking about when it comes to walking as children of the light.  When we produce spiritual fruit such as “goodness, righteousness, and truth”, we show the world around us that we belong to God—that we are filled with his Holy Spirit—and that we are connected to the true vine of Jesus Christ, living lives like his and bearing the spiritual fruit of our fellowship with him. 
Second, the Bible says that as those who walk as children of the light, we:
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
It is a spiritual impossibility to live in the light of Jesus Christ and continue to live in the darkness of the unbelieving world—to have, at one and the same time, fellowship with God and fellowship with the Devil.  It is simply impossible!
The child of God has nothing to do with the sins of this dark world but rather by the light of Jesus Christ that shines from our lives--exposes them for the demonic darkness that they are.
All around us we see a world living in dark delusion—a world that has turned the truth of God upside down—a world that calls that which is evil, good—a world that regards moral and spiritual darkness as light. 
Those who walk in the light of Jesus Christ have a responsibility—in their lives and with their lips—not only to refuse to have fellowship with evil, but to actively and purposefully expose it—letting the bright, shining light of God’s Word reveal it for the darkness and death that it is.
As the people of God, we are called to be salt and light in a dark and decaying world.  We have a prophetic responsibility to those who will not see and will not hear the truth-- to unashamedly show with our lives and speak with our mouths that which is good and true and righteous so that they may be awakened from spiritual death. 
The Bible says:  “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  In these words to us today from the living God of the universe, there is a “wake-up: call for the Christian and for the unbeliever-- and a glorious promise for both.
For Christians, this is a wake-up call to be done with the lazy, lax distortion of Christianity that is so common today in the church today. 
We have been rescued from darkness and death!  The Light of Jesus Christi has shone into our lives!  God has a call and claim upon our lives to walk as children of the light—to leave behind the disengaged, disinterested Christianity that fills so many churches today and to live a life concerned for others, thoughtful about what we see and hear, and actively involved in the Lord’s mission.
For the unbeliever it is a wake-up call to rise from the darkness of sin and death. God says:  Arise! Arise!  My Son has forgiven your sins upon the cross and he raised you up from the dead in his own resurrection.  His love and light and life shines upon you!  Arise!  Arise and walk in newness of life!

For all of us, this is a day to remember where we were:  lost in darkness.  This is a day to give thanks to God for where we are right now—living in the glorious light of Jesus Christ.  And this is a day to recommit ourselves to letting his light shine forth from our lives into the darkness of the world around us.  May God grant it for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Repent and Turn to Jesus for He Longs to Forgive You!

Luke 23:32-34 There have been times when we have wandered far and wide from the narrow way that leads to eternal life.  There have been times when we have not treasured God’s Word and the sacraments as we should.  There have been times when we got caught up in some besetting sin and rather than repenting of it, we made room for it in our lives.
            And when we find ourselves in these spiritually dangerous places, in these times when we are living in opposition to God’s will, we cannot help but wonder to ourselves:  has God given up on me because I have given up on him?  Will God take me back when I am so far gone?  Will God forgive this sin one more time when I have promised him again and again I am done with it, only to fall—again and again?
When we find ourselves in those kinds of places—when go through those kinds of times—when we ask those kinds of questions:  I want you to remember tonight’s sermon and turn to Jesus for he longs to forgive you. 
He shows that longing by identifying with sinners and by dying on the cross.  He shows that desire by establishing the means of Grace in the church and shows that concern by leaving no detail of salvation undone.
Your forgiveness—your restoration to God’s family-- is why Jesus took on flesh and if there had been only you and your sins in a whole world full of perfectly holy people, Jesus would have still come into this world to bear your sin and suffer and die and rise again for your forgiveness.
In the few short verses that we have before us today for our Lenten meditation we see how true it is that we can always repent and turn to Jesus for he longs to forgive us.  The Bible says that:  Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.
Our Lord began his public ministry by identifying himself with sin and sinners in the waters of the Jordan River as he was baptized by John. 
John knew that there was absolutely no need for Jesus to be baptized for himself for he was the sinless Son of God and he drew back from even the thought of Jesus being identified with those who were repenting of their sins and being baptized-- to say nothing of the brood vipers that was standing there looking on.
But Jesus insisted.  He said that his baptism was necessary to full all righteousness and so a holy, sinless Son of God walked down into those sin-filled water and came out bearing them all as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
We see that same picture of our Lord again and again throughout his earthly ministry, identifying himself with sin and sinners.  He talked with a sinful woman at Jacob’s well.  He ate with Matthew and Zacheaus and other public sinners.  And he let a sinful woman anoint his feet and wipe them with her hair.
The religious leaders of the day constantly criticized him, saying that he was a friend of sinners.  And that is true, he was. 
Jesus never kept himself aloof from sinners—not from the repentant ones like Matthew and Zacheaus.  Not from the self-righteous ones like the Pharisees and Scribes whose homes he ate in as well. 
And not even from two criminals, convicted of capital crimes who carried their crosses alongside of him to Golgotha.
As we turn our eyes of faith to Jesus carrying his cross down the way of suffering along with two other condemned men headed to death for their crimes, we see just exactly the love that Jesus has for sinners and we know that when we repent and turn to him in faith we will be forgiven because that is what he longs to do.  The Bible says that: 
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
            When have wandered from the Lord, when we have committed some grave sin or when we have committed the same pet sin over and over—we may wonder and worry to ourselves:  can I really count on being forgiven one more time and can I count on being forgiven one more time after that?
The answer to those questions-- and the cure for those doubts—is found right here before our eyes. 
To forgive our sins Jesus was called every hateful name in the book.  He was ridiculed and mocked.  He was spit upon and struck in the face.  He was whipped so severely that many criminals did not survive it.  His hands and feet were nailed to a cross and a crown of thorns was placed upon his head.  The Bible says that those who knew him could not recognize him, so horrific were his injuries.  He gasped for every breath.  He suffered the pains of hell as he was abandoned by his Father and he died a slow, agonizing death.
All of this to forgive you.
And so then, the question for us when we get caught up in some sin is not:  will Jesus forgive me?  The question is:  what hasn’t he done to forgive me?  The question is not:  are my sins too great to be forgiven?  The question is:  why do I think that all my sins that I have ever committed or will ever commit are greater than a single drop of the blood of the son of man or more powerful than a single moment of his suffering. 
Will Jesus forgive my sins?  Can I turn to him no matter how often I fall?  These questions are answered once and for all in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
And that we might believe it, the Lord speaks words of forgiveness to us again and again.  The Bible says that:  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
            There around the cross that day were all kinds of people who deserved no forgiveness from Jesus and would have received no forgiveness from us. 
There would be no clemency from the Roman government for two thieves, their crimes were worthy of death.  Jesus’ closest friends denied him, betrayed him and abandoned him.  The religious leaders loved their place and position more than the truth of the Bible they knew so well.  And the Roman soldiers crucified the Lord of life.
Betrayal.  Cruelty.  Cowardice.  These and many, many more were the sins piled up around the cross that dark Friday afternoon and the sinless Son of God had one thing to say about the whole sad, sorry mess:  Father, forgive them.  Forgiveness for all those sins.  Forgiveness for all those people.
And that we might hear those same words in our own day, with our own ears—and that we might know that those words are spoken to the sinners gathered here today and the whole sad, sorry mess that we have brought into this place--our Lord Jesus Christ continues to say:  Father, forgive them.
When the pastor stands before us in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ and pronounces absolution, we hear the voice of Jesus:  Father, forgive them.  When the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified for sinners is preached from this pulpit the voice of Jesus is heard in our midst:  Father, forgive them.  When we come to this altar and receive the body and blood of Jesus, we hear the voice of Jesus:  Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
Because our Lord Jesus Christ longs to forgive us—no matter how great our sin and no matter how often we have come to him-- he continues to speak the words he spoke at a cross to an entire world of people who need his forgiveness:  Father, forgive them
And that is what he did, leaving nothing unfulfilled in his mission to win our forgiveness.  The Bible says that:  They cast lots to divide his garments.  Bible scholars tell us that over the course of his life Jesus fulfilled over 350 specific Old Testament prophecies and he continued to do that right up until the moment the breathed his last. 
Just think of it!  Jesus was so concerned for your salvation—he so longed for you forgiveness—that even in his last moments on the cross he was making sure that there was not even the smallest detail left unfulfilled of what was promised of the Messiah’s work.
That the soldiers would divide his garments is prophesied by David in Psalm 22.  It really is a minor detail but even as our Lord suffered and died he wanted to make sure that everything was accomplished for our forgiveness and salvation. 
So he continues to do every moment and circumstance of our lives, in every detail promising to work all things for our eternal good.  Why shouldn’t we turn to this One who made sure that everything was done for our forgiveness.

 No matter we have done, no matter how far we have wandered, no many times we have come to the Lord we can be confident that he longs to forgive us because he has become one of us and died our death—because he continues to speak words of forgiveness and life-- and because he has left no detail unfinished when it comes to our forgiveness and salvation.  Turn to the Lord for he longs to forgive you.  Amen.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Standing in God's Grace

Romans 5:1-8 Whether you are a family trying to get out of debt or a young person preparing for a career or someone trying to lose weight—you need a plan. 
As different as these goals are—the plans to get out of debt and build a business and become a doctor  and lose weight all share the same characteristics:  where are you right now—your goal at the end—how you are going to get there—and what resources are at your disposal to reach your goal.  Every plan has those steps.
The same thing is true in our life of faith.  All of us have the goal of going to heaven when we die.  And so we need to know where we are right now in our journey of faith.  We need to know how it is that God is going to bring us to himself in heaven.  And we need to know what spiritual resources we can count on to get us there.  Paul writes:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…
            Standing in God’s grace.  That is where we are right now and it’s a great place to be when it comes to our life with God! 
Standing in God’s grace means that when it comes to our relationship with God:  we can be confident that God’s  attitude towards us is one of love and blessing.  Far from being “out to get us”—God is for us. 
But how did we come to this remarkable place of blessing and favor?
Paul says that we have been justified by faith in Jesus and that through him—we have gained access into this precious place of standing in God’s grace.  And so it’s through faith in Jesus that God has counted us righteous in his sight.  God himself has counted Christ’s holy life as our own righteousness.  God himself has counted Christ’s death on the cross as our punishment for our sins. 
The wrath that God has towards sinners has been taken away and replaced by peace so that we can be absolutely confident that God looks upon us with a shining face of love and desires to bless us with every good gift of body and soul.  Grace is where we are and faith has brought us there.  That is why we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Our goal is to one day live in the presence of the glory of God with his light and love and life shining upon us forever and ever.  This is the goal of the Christian life.  To that end…
God has created you by his almighty Word- and redeemed you at the cost his Son’s blood- and brought you to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit- for a single purpose:  that you would live with him in heaven—so that his glory would shine upon you forever in joy and peace.  As Christian people we rejoice in that hope.
So far we have learned:  1. Where we are right now:  standing in grace 2.  How we got there: by faith in Jesus 3. and what our goal is:  eternal life in the presence of the glory of God.  The next step in God’s plan is getting us there.  Paul writes about God’s work to bring us to heaven through the hardships and difficulties of life:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame
            There are going to be some hardships along the way until we reach the glories of heaven.  But far from complaining about hard times, we can actually rejoice in the midst of them because we know that there is a God of love who is wisely, graciously, lovingly, patiently working in those hard times for our good-- to form us into the image of his Son and prepare us for an eternal life in his presence. 
And so how does God do that exactly?  What are the steps that God takes in that plan?
First of all, we just need to accept that there are going to be hard times and there is going to be some suffering in this life.  We live in a broken world- and we are broken people- and there are going to be times when that brokenness comes to rest on us and those we love.  But as we endure those times, we come to see that what we thought was unbearable, has actually made us stronger.
            Character is produced in us as we face and overcome the challenges of life.  When we discover (through trials) that God will equip us and strengthen us for whatever difficulties we have to endure—ever so slowly we begin to change on the inside—we become more courageous and confident—we develop an inner resolve—we gain a mental and emotional strength.  Our character grows.  And character produces hope.
That is where God is working to bring us—to a firm hope in him—confidently facing the future and eternity—because we know the God who has been our help every step along the way has promised to remain our help until we get to heaven.
Suffering.  Endurance.  Character.  Hope.  Let me just summarize this process with an analogy.  All of us who are parents know what we want at the end of our child-rearing years:  we want decent, hardworking, Christian adult sons and daughters. 
And so, is the best way to achieve this goal to give them every thing they want on a sliver platter, to pamper them into helplessness, to never challenge them beyond where there are in any given moment?  Is that the best plan?  Of course not!  It’s a recipe for disaster! 
If we have sense enough to know that that formula doesn’t work for our children—why on earth would we demand that our heavenly Father work that way among us—his children?  That is a recipe for spiritual disaster! 
But as little as we would spoil our children, neither would we let our children fend for themselves without our help-- and neither does our heavenly Father leave us to our own resources and strength to work our way to heaven. 
Every bit of God’s plan to bring us to our heavenly home (through suffering and endurance and character and hope) is accomplished in us by HIS loving help.  Paul says that: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  And so what does that mean?  It means that:
Every time we hear God’s Word preached (the law that corrects us and the Gospel that comforts us) every time we hear that our sins are forgiven—every time we receive Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion—there, in those places, and in those moments—God is pouring his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—to give us those spiritual resources we need to reach our heavenly goal—which is why he sent his Son in the first place.  Paul writes: 
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
All of us understand the challenges of reaching a goal.  Lots of kids want to be doctors until the hard work of physics and chemistry kick in.  Plenty of us have lost and gained back hundreds of pounds.  We get one bill paid off only to be faced by another.  We know about failure in meeting goals. 
And so how can we be confident as Christian people that we WILL make the goal of heaven?  It‘s because the One who has already accomplished so much for  us has promised that we will-- and his track record of accomplishing what seems to us impossible—is perfect. 
While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.  It you think you are weak now (and that causes you to worry about reaching heaven) think what you were before you came to faith in Jesus!  That is real weakness!
But it was at that moment—when you had no spiritual resources of your own—that God loved you and sent his Son to die for you.  It is while you were still sinners—incapable of pleasing God—incapable of even making a start towards God—that Christ died for you.
This is the deep, abiding, everlasting love that God has for each and every one of you and having sent his Son to die for you—having brought you to himself by the Spirit’s work in Holy Baptism—having sustained your faith through word and sacrament up to this point—HE WILL NOT STOP working to bring you to heaven until you are safe and sound, standing in his presence, basking in his glory.
And so when you think about how far you still have to go to get to heaven—when you are in the midst of some kind of sorrow or suffering—when your sins seem to overwhelm your faith—remember what you learned today: that through faith in Jesus you stand in God’s grace RIGHT NOW.

He is at work in your life in hard times to shape and mold you into the image of his Son—and that having sent his Son to die for you while you were still a sinner—he CERTAINLY will not give up on you until you reach your heavenly goal.  Amen.

Turn to Jesus For He Holds the Keys to Heaven

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Faith Counted as Righteousness

Turn to Jesus for He Holds the Key to Heaven!

Luke 23:35-43 The Bible begins with God and man living in perfect fellowship in a beautiful garden.  The Bible ends with God and man living in perfect fellowship in a beautiful garden.  In between those beautiful bookends of life and fellowship is the story of man’s sin and God’s salvation. 
Standing directly in the middle is what we see tonight:  the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sin that brought him there and the sacrifice that has restored what we have lost. 
And if we are to journey from one end of the Bible’s story to another—if we are to go from Paradise lost to Paradise found-- we must know and believe what the repentant thief knew and believed:  that the keys to heaven and a life with God are held in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ.  The Bible say that:  the people stood by, watching.
Dear friends in Christ, we are in that crowd.  We are those people watching these events unfold in the pages of Holy Scripture.  We are those people hearing the accusation of the world against the man of the cross.
And as we witness these events unfold—and as we hear the words that are spoken on Golgotha—every one of us will depart from that place tonight in one of two ways:  believing the words of Jesus that he is the one who holds the keys of heaven-- or rejecting that claim. 
God grant us faith to turn a deaf ear to the lies of evil men and believe the words of Jesus that when we breathe our last, we will enter with him into Paradise—for there were many that days who rejected him-and his words- out of hand.  The Bible says that: 
The rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”
            When Jesus was baptized and began his earthly ministry, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God the Father proclaimed him his beloved Son.  John saw him and said:  Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  In his hometown synagogue, Jesus opened the Scriptures from Isaiah that had to do with the coming Messiah and said, Today these scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing
When John the Baptist was confronted with the executioners sword and faced his own death, Jesus assured him the signs of the Messiah (the deaf being able to hear and the blind being able to see and the poor being helped and the lame walking) had all been fulfilled.
For anyone who had even the smallest grasp of the Old Testament, the evidence was inescapable:  This Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to send a Savior for the world.  He was the Christ.
The religious leaders of the people of Israel should have been the ones leading the way to bring people to Jesus.  But instead, they were opposing him every step of the way.  And what is so shocking about that rejection of Jesus is that by their own testimony, they knew that Jesus had indeed saved others:  He saved others, they said.  And he had!
He saved a sinful woman from being stoned to death by forgiving her.  He saved a widow from economic disaster by raising her son from the dead.  He saved a broken woman bent from the waist and another with a flow of blood from a lifetime of misery be healing them.  How true the testimony of the religious leaders at the cross:  he saved others!
And yet THEY denied him and mocked him and convicted him unjustly and demanded from him one sign after another even as he died because no sign will even be enough for someone who does not believe the witness of Holy Scripture about Jesus. 
When John the Baptist faced his own death he believed the testimony of Scripture about Jesus and entered into Paradise.  The religious leaders who stood at the foot of the cross rejected it and would remain outside forever.  What about the others there that day?  The Bible says that:
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”   
            These men knew what a king was.  They served one.  They knew about power and strength and the kind of peace that could prosper an empire.  At that moment in world history the Pax Romana held sway over the greatest empire that had ever existed. 
These men knew about the glory and wealth and prestige that accompanied the Roman emperor.  But they did not know the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords and they did not have a place in his kingdom despite the fact that the emblems of his reign were readily seen.
This king that was being crucified didn’t rule over some earthly nation or empire even one as great as Rome—he ruled the world.  He spoke to the wind and the waves and commanded them to be still and they were. 
This humble king did not rule by force of arms for there was no need.  With merely a word he caused a violent, armed mob to fall helpless at his feet. 
This dying king did not send men to their death by his cold, calculating command-- but rather called men to come to him and have life. 
His royal power gave life where there was death and forgiveness where there was sin and eternal riches where there was spiritual poverty and true and lasting peace where there was conflict and hard feelings.
Most importantly, this king ruled an eternal kingdom that even his death could not end and he gave places in that kingdom to all who could see him for who he was even in the face of great evil and death.  The Bible says that
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
            As we watch on with the bystanders around the cross that dark Friday afternoon, perhaps it is these words of the dying thief that pose the greatest obstacle to us confessing Jesus as the One who holds the keys to heaven-- for this is the response of a broken and dying world to our confession faith. 
The unbelieving world around us says, “Fine!  We are glad enough to believe that Jesus is the promised Savior and a mighty king!  We’d like to believe that there is a heaven to come.  But what about our situation right here and right now!  We are broken!  We are dying!  We are in need!  If Jesus is who he says he is—if he is who you claim to be—let him change things for me right here and right now and then I will believe.”
            And it is this assault upon both the goodness and power of Jesus that causes us so much difficulty as we confront a world that is broken and dying and filled with misery. 
But here is the thing:  it is ONLY at the cross that we see the answer to mankind’s need!  It is only at the cross that we see the goodness of God on full display as he sacrifices himself for the sins of the world.  It is only at the cross that we see the power of God on full display as he reconciles a world to himself and restores all things broken by sin.  The old Lenten hymn says it this way: 
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, See Him dying on the tree!  'Tis the Christ by man rejected; Yes, my soul, 'tis He! 'tis He! 'Tis the long-expected Prophet, David's Son, yet David's Lord; Proofs I see sufficient of it:  'Tis the true and faithful Word.
            There at the cross—in the One who suffers and dies for the sins of the world—is the sufficient proof that Jesus is the only one who can open the way back to God for us-- and that proof calls for our for our confession and faith just like the repentant thief.  The Bibles says:
The other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
            Every little Lutheran grew up confessing that he was a poor, miserable sinner and that he justly deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment and maybe we thought to ourselves that this is just what Lutherans do.  But that confession of sin and that understanding that we deserve in time and eternity is punishment, is not a Lutheran thing—it is a bible thing that goes all the way back to what the repentant thief said on the cross! 
He understood that he was simply getting what his sins deserved.  He recognized that this is the course that sin always takes because the wages of sin is death—not just for the thief—not just for the really terrible sinners—but for all of us.
But he also knew and confessed and believed that even in that dark moment of sin’s consequence—even with death staring him in the face—there was still hope for him because of Jesus.  So it is for us. 
The rest of our confession is this: “I pray Thee of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.”
Again, that is not a Lutheran thing—that is a Bible thing—it is exactly what the repentant thief said:  This man has done nothing wrong!  He is innocent!  Jesus, remember me!  And so he would!  Jesus said:  “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Those are the gracious, merciful words that Jesus speaks to every repent sinner who turns to him in faith:  You will be with me in Paradise!
Here’s what those words mean to you and me.  The Paradise that we have lost on account of sin (our relationship with God, our purpose in life, even our very lives) has been restored to us by Jesus Christ. 

He is the blood covering provided by God that hides our guilt and shame.  He is the tree of life that we can hold to and live forever.  He is the Savior King who holds in his hands the keys to heaven and opens it to us who cast ourselves on his mercy and confess him as our king.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Faith Counted as Righteousness

Romans 4:1-8, 13-17 At God’s command, Abraham left his home and his extended family and everything that was near and dear to him to go to a land that he did not know.
 Everywhere his caravan stopped he built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed to him and worshiped him.
When God commanded to sacrifice his son, he did not hesitate—and would have done so if the Angel of the Lord had not stopped him and provided a substitute. 
In terms of obedience to the Lord—Abraham’s life was exemplary.
But what did his obedience GAIN for him in terms of his relationship with the Lord?  If, in fact, Abraham had made a way to God through his obedience-- this was something to brag about—something to boast of.  But had he really managed to do this?  Can we do it?  Paul writes:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?  If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about-- but not before God. 
            The righteous, obedient, holy life of Abraham was praiseworthy—it merits our imitation.  If anyone had a right to boast to his friends and neighbors about who he was and what he had done compared to other men, it was Abraham—BUT NOT TOWARD GOD—because God’s standard is himself and as holy as Abraham was—he didn’t match up to God.  Abraham couldn’t justify himself in God’s sight and neither can we.
And yet, Abraham was right in God’s sight—he had a living relationship with God that would extend beyond his earthly life.  But if that had not come from his obedience to the will of God—how had it come to him?  It came through faith. 
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 
Abraham’s good works—his obedience to God’s commands—the fact that he was the best sort of man—still did not add up to a life with God—it didn’t reconcile the heavenly books because in one column was God and in the other column were the works of Abraham.  Man’s goodness and God’s goodness do not add up as equals.
That said, God had credited something else to Abraham’s account that did equal up to a life with God and that was Abraham’s faith.  It is trust in God that matters—for Abraham and for us.  The question is:  why does our faith and trust count for so much in God’s sight?  Paul writes:
To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
So why does faith make all the difference in our life with God?  When works and obedience are not enough to have a life with God—when “the wages” for that that kind of life are still not enough to “buy” a place with God—why then does faith matter so much?  What was it about Abraham’s faith that God counted in his sight as righteousness? 
It was the CONTENT of what his faith laid hold of:  a firm trust in the God who justifies the ungodly. 
Abraham had not done enough- and could never do enough- to earn a place with God- but his faith in God WAS sufficient because the CONTENT of his saving faith was the God who graciously brings sinners to himself.
Our faith counts as righteousness in God’s sight—NOT because it is a human work—but because its object (what we believe in and lay hold of) is true.  And the proper object of saving faith is the God who justifies the ungodly—that is, the God who forgives sinners.  We see the same thing in the life of David:
David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 
All of us know the story of King David—how he committed adultery with Bathsheba—murdered her husband by sending him to his death in battle—and then hid the whole sorry mess and went back to living his life as if nothing had ever happened.  That kind of sin deserves God’s judgment!
But rather than striking him dead for his sin, God sent Nathan the prophet to lead David to see the truth about his sin and cry out for the mercy and forgiveness of God.  He did not deserve forgiveness (what he had actually earned by his actions was death) but David knew the Lord was the God who forgives sins—and he did:  God forgave David.  It was this part of his life that inspired David to write the psalm that Paul quotes: 
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Please understand, David is not saying that he did not sin—he is not saying that somehow he had earned a free pass.  He admits his deeds were lawless.  He confesses that he is a sinner.  But he also knows that God had covered that sin and not charged it to his account.  How did this come about?  Where is the justice in this kind of accounting?
David’s sins were covered and not counted against him because of the shedding of blood—just like the guilt and shame and sin of Adam and Eve were covered by the shedding of blood. 
From the very beginning of time God said that the wages of sin is death.  One innocent animal after another would shed its blood and lose its life as a reminder of the cost of sin --but also as a promise of the sacrifice to come that would cover all sins—once for all.
Jesus is that sacrifice.  His death on the cross has paid the penalty for David’s lawless deeds.  The blood that was shed there on Calvary has covered our sins.  And the sins that should have been counted as ours were charged to Jesus who died under the curse of death that God pronounced upon sinners.
Abraham looked forward to that day in faith and so did David.  We look back in faith and know it to be the accomplished fact of history.  And so then…
The content of a true and saving faith is the God who justifies the ungodly—who forgives the lawless deeds of men—and that is Jesus.  Jesus said of himself that “Abraham looked forward to his day” and that “David called him Lord”.  These Old Testament saints had a life with God-- in the only way that it is possible to have a life with God—and that is through faith in Jesus. 
It HAS to be that way so that we can be absolutely confident that we DO have a life with God.  Jesus is the only foundation we can rely on.  Paul writes:
The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
With these words Paul makes a VITALLY important point regarding our life with God and it’s this:  we can only be truly confident that things are right between us and God when that life is based upon what God has done for us-- RATHER than what we have done for God. 
If God had made the promise to bless the world through Abraham dependent upon his keeping the law—we would have been lost—for as obedient as Abraham was, he still was not perfect and the law always brings wrath because God’s standard is perfect obedience.  So it is for us.
Our life with God—our right standing in God’s sight—our confidence that there is another life to come when this life is over—rests safe and secure upon the work of Jesus for us—and so long as that is where our faith is found—we can be confident that we are God’s children—for our faithful God has promised us this very thing.  Paul writes:
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations-- when he and his family and servants were only a handful of herdsmen.  God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars-- when he didn’t even have a child.  God promised that Abraham and Sarah would have a child --when they were decades beyond child-bearing years. 
God kept every one of his promises to Abraham and ultimately fulfilled them in Jesus Christ—Abraham’s descendant.
Jesus is the one through whom the nations are blessed with forgiveness- by his death on the cross.  Jesus is the One through whom God gave eternal life- by raising him from the dead.  Jesus is the One through whom God counts us as his sons and daughters -where before he counted us as enemies.
This is what our faith rests on: the grace of God who reaches out to bless those who have not even yet begun to serve him or even know him. 
The Lord is the God of kept promises and so our life with him--now and forever--is guaranteed to those who share the faith of Abraham in a Savior God who justifies the ungodly and forgives the sinner through faith.  Amen.