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.

Jesus Is Our Eternal High Priest

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Jesus Is Our Eternal High Priest

Hebrews 7:23-27 Several weeks ago Billy Graham died.  He was 99 years old and had been a preacher and leader in evangelical circles for decades. 
John Paul II died at 85 after serving as pope for nearly thirty years and as a bishop in Poland for many, many more years before that.  For most of us siting here today, the pastors who baptized us and confirmed us have all passed away. 
No matter how much we appreciated their sermons and learned from their teaching; no matter how much they meant to us at meaningful moments in our lives; the pastors who served us did not continue in the ministry forever-- and as many funerals that they conducted, some servant of God conducted theirs. 
Unless the Lord comes first, the pastor standing in this pulpit will also pass away and someone will take his place.
For every faithful servant of God who sets before us Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world:  we give thanks.  But none of them live forever—and they never have.  The Bible says:
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office,
            Over thousands of years, there were thousands of priest who served God’s people.  They taught the people the Word of God.  They cared for the temple.  They offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. 
And yet, no matter how great, no matter how godly, no matter the blessing they were to the people of God—they died—and another man took their place and then he died—and so it went down through salvation history:  the life and death of old priests and the service of the priests who took their place were an emblem of the brokenness of this dying world where generation after generation are born and live and die.
            The priests who served God’s people died because they were Adam’s children too, no less than those they served.  They were chosen from the tribe of Levi but they still bore the curse God placed upon Adam that the wages of sin is death.  They died because they were sinners too.
For example, when the high priests made atonement for sin of the people of God by the shedding of blood, they first had to sacrifice for themselves, for their own sins separated them from God no less than the sins of the people kept them from God. 
These men who were set apart to stand as priests between a sinful people and a holy God, were absolutely no different than the people they served in their sins and in their death—right up until the moment the One they promised and proclaimed took upon himself that priestly office—the One who is our eternal high priest.  The bible says that Jesus:  holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
            Jesus was and is and always will be our great high priest.  He is the content and fulfillment of the office of high priest for it was his service and his sacrifice that all who came before him proclaimed and demonstrated in their service and in their sacrifices. 
He offered up on the cross the once for all sacrifice that has reconciled a holy God to a sinful people.  It is his blood alone that has truly washed our sins away.
Unlike every other priest who came before him-- and unlike every other servant of the church who came after him--he hold his priesthood permanently because he was nt defeated by death but rather was its conqueror. 
When Jesus died on the cross, a priest and a sacrifice died there that day.  To all the world—and certainly to his enemies-- it looked like Jesus’ service and Jesus’ sacrifice were like all of those that came before him—ending in death.
But early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Jesus came forth from his tomb as the victor over sin and death. 
He was not conquered by Adam’s sin.  He had no sin of his own.  His death was not what was due him but what was due us—and he stood in our place and received what we deserve-- and he stood in our place and gave to God what he demands of us.
In his perfect sacrifice, justice was served; and the guilty were forgiven and God and man were reconciled.
God accepted this priestly work and this perfect sacrifice and raised his Son from the dead and so Jesus continues to this day as our eternal great high priest.
We, along with the faithful people of God in every place and time, can come to him again and again:  and be instructed in God’s Word-- and follow his holy example-- and find forgiveness in his sacrifice-- because he is our resurrected, ascended, living eternal high priest whose saving work for us continues.  The Bible says that because Jesus is the risen, ascended Lord:
he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
            When our Lord Jesus Christ offered up the perfect sacrifice of his body on the cross- and when our heavenly Father accepted that sacrifice by raising him from the dead- sin was paid for, wrath was taken away, and God and man were reconciled.
Jesus accomplished that priestly work for the sake of the world.  But for us to benefit from it personally and individually each of us must come to faith and continue in faith unto the end if we are to be saved. 
His great high priestly work on our behalf goes on for the sake our salvation-- and in fact-- the purpose of his resurrection was to not only to begin the work of salvation in us-- but bring it to completion in our lives. 
And so at this moment our resurrected, ascended Savior stands at the Father’s right hand interceding for us:  as the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins—as the king of the universe who rules all thing for our eternal good—as our prophet who continues to raise up servants of the church who will speak his word of promise and hope.
What a blessing it is that the same great high priest who sacrificed his life for us, lives for us at this moment and forever, continuing to do all within his powerful love to bring us home.  That is the kind of priest we need!  The Bible says:
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
            I remember reading about Billy Graham that, in all his travels he was never in a hotel with a woman other than his wife.  He lived in the public eye for decades without a scandal on his reputation or a blemish upon his ministry.  That is a remarkable and praiseworthy testimony!
But he never once counted himself anything else than a sinner who needed saving.  So it is for every pastor who has ever served the church.  So it is for every priest who served the Israelites. 
Many of them were faithful in their work and devout in their personal lives but all of them were sinners who needed saving—all of them died under sin’s curse.
But Jesus, our eternal high priest, was not a sinner!  He possessed the holiness that God demands all of us to give and yet we do not.  He was innocent in God’s sight of even the slightest breach of the Law.  He had no sins of his own that stained his soul.  He was brought forth in human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit and so was different than every other man born of a woman.
In this holiness and righteousness he was the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice.  He was the perfect priest who made one sacrifice that fully atoned for the sins of every person in the whole world and he was the perfect sacrifice whose blood was so powerful that it cleansed every sins that has ever or will ever be committed. 
This was the kind of priest and sacrifice that was necessary to reconcile a world full of sinners to a holy God and he alone is finally and fully sufficient for our salvation.
Every faithful priest among God’s ancient people pointed to this sacrifice to come and every faithful man of God who has ever served the church since preaches this sacrifice accomplished by Jesus.
Our eternal high priest lives at this moment and forever at his Father’s right hand and he has conquered death and the grave for us so that we can join him there one day in the joys of eternal life in heaven.  God grant it for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jesus Is I Am

John 8:48-59 We live in a world that tells us that it does not matter what we believe—so long as we believe something.  They say that what we Christians really ought to be about as the people of God are:  “deeds not creeds”.  Parts of the church have bought into it.  An old slogan for the World Council of Churches is:  “Doctrine Divides, Service Unites.”  And yet…
Before the sermon we confessed our Christian faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.  With doctrinal precision we confessed our faith in the Triune God as the one true God- and we confessed our faith in Jesus Christ as the God/Man Savior of the world—and we confessed that who Jesus is and what he has done is for our salvation.
Can there be a greater divide between those who call for “deeds not creeds” and those Christians who confess their faith this way?  And so who is right?  Which of these two parties can claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?  Who is closer to the Spirit of Christ? 
In our Gospel lesson we will see that Jesus was a staunch contender for the Faith because it is ONLY those who know the truth about God and Jesus who can be saved.  The Bible says:
The Jews answered Jesus, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
            The events of our text take place in the midst of a lengthy conversation—really a confrontation—that Jesus is having with the Pharisees about his identity and their claims to know the truth about God.  During this confrontation…
Jesus proclaimed himself to be the light of the world.  He said that those who do not believe in him will die in their sins and the only way to be free is to be set free by the Son.  He said that he is the one who speaks for the Father and that anyone who claims God as their Father must love the Son and that those who do not love the Son do not know God and are not of God.
            This is why the church contends for the faith that is confessed in the creeds—because Jesus contended for that faith—vigorously and without compromise!
The only hope that man has for salvation is found in knowing the truth about God and the truth about Jesus.  That is not what we believe because we are rigid and hard-headed—it is what we believe because that is what Jesus believed- and taught- and showed-- in his life. 
The response of the world to our contending for the faith is exactly the same as it was in Jesus’ day:  opposition, name-calling, and the questioning of motives. 
The Pharisees said that Jesus was a Samaritan (the worst insult they could think of) and that he was speaking for the devil.  The world around us (and sadly even parts of the visible church) claim that Christians like us who contend for the faith expressed in the creeds are rigid, unloving, and judgmental when we say that what is actually believed and confessed--matters.
And so why don’t we just go along to get along?  Why do we let ourselves be criticized and castigated by the world around us when we refuse to compromise on our confession of faith?  It’s because what is confessed by the church-- is a matter of life and death for the world. 
Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
            This is what’s at stake when it comes to our confession—life and death—because the words of Jesus tell us the truth about God and the truth about salvation and to know and believe what Jesus says is to have eternal life.
Now, because it’s going to come up in just a few moments, I will point out that Jesus is obviously not talking about physical death—Jesus knew that people died, he encountered death throughout his ministry—he knew that he would die—it’s why he came.  But what Jesus is talking about is eternal death—separation from God for eternity.  That fact of the matter is…
This is what death really is—to be separated from God forever—and no one who puts their faith and trust in the promises of Jesus ever has to fear death for we will never be apart from God:  not in the dark times of life—not when we draw our last earthly breath—not in eternity.  That is what Jesus promises-- and we hold fast to his words.
That is where our confidence and life is found—in the words of Jesus—and that is why contending for the faith is so important—because it is the ONLY place where life is found!
Just a few days before these events many of those who had followed Jesus were turning away and he asked his disciples:  Will you leave me too?  And Peter answered for all of them:  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life!
Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father to save the world.  The words he spoke and the works that he did where not his own—but what he was sent into the world to do—and to reject his words and to reject his saving works is finally to reject God because Jesus is God’s Son. 
The Jews said to Jesus, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
This the question that all of us must answer:  Who is Jesus?  Is he a created being like the Jehovah’s Witnesses tell us?  Is he a great prophet as the Muslims want us to believe?  Is he a wise teacher and moral example as so many in our world believe him to be?  
Everyone has an opinion about Jesus—who he is and what he has done.  But it is eternally important to our salvation that we do not have merely a personal opinion:  but that we confess the objective truth about the person and work of Jesus and then contend for that faith.
We have creeds and confessions because over time this question has been asked and answered in ways that deny the real divinity and humanity of Jesus and his saving work. 
Far, far from abandoning the creeds of the church and the Faith that is confessed in those creeds it is imperative that the church of Jesus Christ be a confessing church which is willing to contend for the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to have a life with the Father.
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.
The one thing that our religiously pluralistic culture cannot tolerate is for Christians to make absolute truth claims not only for themselves but for everyone else in the world besides.  To say with the apostles that “salvation is found in no one but Jesus for there is no other name given to men by which they can be saved” is considered to be intolerable hate speech. 
And so it has become fashionable for Christians who do not want to offend to adopt the language of the culture and say, “Well, this is what’s true for me” as if the person they are speaking to could also have some truth that stands opposed to what they believe and confess.  Even pastors who ought to know better go on TV and cannot bring themselves to say that Jesus is the Son of God and the way of salvation and those who do not know him are lost eternally.
Jesus NEVER suffered from that kind of spiritual cowardice because he knew that eternal souls were at the risk of being lost forever.  Jesus NEVER hesitated to tell the truth about the spiritual condition of those around him because he knew that unless they came to grips with the fact that they were lost without him-- they would be lost forever.
There are countless people around us who do not share our faith in Jesus and yet claim to know God and love God and have a life with God.  Just like the Pharisees, they say:  He is our God.  Is this possible?  Jesus says:  No!  The judgment of JESUS is that they are liars and do not know God BECAUSE they will not glorify the Son he has sent who has always been the only way to the Father. 
Jesus said:  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” It’s not as if Jesus were telling the Pharisees something new about the way to have a life with God.  God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the world would be blessed and when he held little Isaac in his arms he knew that the LORD was the God of kept promises and that he could be trusted for salvation. 
That is the content of saving faith:  the promises of God fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and there is no other way to salvation.   For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in HIM should not perish but have eternal life. 
These words of John 3:16 are the content of the creeds:  This is the God who loves the world.  This is the Son is who has saved the world.  When we confess our faith in the words of the creeds, we simply say what Jesus has said about himself and about God:  that he is the Son of God and that to know him is to know the Father.
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
You will note that Jesus did not say:  Before Abraham was—I was—as if Jesus had a beginning before Abraham (as remarkable as that would be!).  No!  He says:  Before Abraham was:  I am.  Just exactly what God said of himself when Moses asked about his identity at the burning bush is what Jesus says of himself right here:  I am!  I simply exist without beginning and end because I am God.  The Pharisees understood Jesus’ claim and they tried to stone him.
That scene takes us back to the beginning of the sermon and the opposition of the world to the confession of the church.  Contending for the Faith takes courage to face the opposition of the world.  It takes clarity about what we believe.  And it takes the conviction that what we confess in the creeds about who God is and what Jesus has done is true:  true for us and true for the world.  Courage.  Clarity.  And conviction.  That is what it means to contend for the faith.  May God grant it for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.