3.4.18 Lent 3B


Exodus 20

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”



“A guardrail would be nice.”  That’s the thought that went through my head.  I was 18 years-old in the country of Peru.  While I was a senior at Luther Prep I applied and was selected for this mission trip where we visited the different churches throughout Peru. There were 6 of us.  We led the songs in worship, read passages that we had learned in Spanish, and did our best to encourage them in Spanish during fellowship meals.  It was uplifting for us to see what the gospel does in very different and often very remote places.  And you could tell that they were just as excited to meet a bunch of Lutheran high schoolers from the US, who shared the same faith.  Like I said, some of the places were remote and I’ve got plenty of memories from that whole experience.   But one thing fits very well with the section of God’s Word in front of us today.

On these mission trips for the Prep students they make sure to set some time aside for fun trips.  Our group had a very breath-taking trip to Machu Picchu.  It is the ancient and iconic Incan city built high in the Peruvian Andes mountains.  To get up to this mountain top town, you need to take a bus up a steep switch-backed road.  I had been on mountain roads before, but not like this.  There were about 40-50 people in a bus on this narrow and dirt road where guardrails were not to be found.  That was fine I guess, but did I mention there are multiple buses on this very narrow dirt road zigzagging up a mountain.  When I started to get a little freaked out was when our bus was backing up because another bus was coming down the road.  I was sitting in the back of the bus that overhangs the back wheels, the part that was hanging out over the switchback.  That’s when I thought a guardrail would be nice.

Guardrails are good things.  Their job is to protect you from the possibility of going off the road down a mountain side or into a river.  That’s good.  The guardrail also promotes the right way to go.  It says, “Stay away from that.  Here is the right way.  Keep your eyes on the road.”  And it doesn’t matter if you think the guardrail could be closer to the edge of the cliff or it should be in tighter to the road, it has already been placed and our job is not to move it.  Our job is to abide by it.

That’s where Exodus 20 comes in.  These are God’s Commandments for all people.  God records them for us here, in Deuteronomy 5, and many are repeated for us by Jesus and other New Testament writers.  This is how God wants people to live.  He wants to stay on his course.  His commandments are like guardrails to keep this world safe from harm and danger.  They also serve Christians as a guide to promote the right way, the way God wants his people to go staying away from a sinful world.

A lot of people have their own ideas on how to be good moral people.  Diet Coke commercials are telling us to “just do you.”  If it makes you happy, then do that.  And people kind of like that idea.  It means they set up their own guardrails to protect them from what they have decided is bad.  Sometimes it changes with culture, and sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s up for you to decide.  You get to be your own moral judge.

God disagrees.   “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.”  This is the first of God’s Commandments.  There are no other gods.  When it comes to priorities everything else must come after our relationship to God.  If that does not happen, then you have yourself an idol.

An idol can be anything that you love and can’t imagine your life without it.  But I’ll tell you why none of them are worth the high priority we often give them.  Your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your job, your boat, your camper, your hobbies, your sports, your favorite singers, movies, shows – none of these things can save you from sin or death or hell.  So, God has set up the guardrail to protect you from loving those things too much.  He promotes the good course for us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things, because he does save us from sin, death and hell.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  There are plenty of titles God uses about himself in the Bible, and all of them need to be used properly.  Anything else is going to hurt you.  It is not allowed to use God’s name to show how excited or frustrated or serious you are.  Using God’s name to wish evil on someone or something doesn’t help you more than them.  Putting any stock in things like a horoscope or a physic would also fall into this category of misusing God’s name, because you have decided his name is not good enough or powerful enough for whatever you have going on.  God set up this guardrail to protect us from dragging his name and reputation through mud.  He promotes the good course for us to use his name regularly for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The Sabbath was a day of rest.  That’s what the Hebrew word means.  Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”  The problem is that we often look for rest in other places.  People get nice beds, comfy couches, massagers and spas, or they look for relief in bottles or hobbies.  We surround ourselves with all these conveniences, but they cannot remove weariness, much less deal with the burdens we carry physically, psychologically, or spiritually.  So God sets up a guardrail to protect us from all the different things this world presents to give rest.  There is only one thing that give our souls rest, God’s Word.  God promotes the good course for us to love and use his Word and to love and use his house.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”  This commandment specifically deals with the authorities God has set up in the home, but there are also plenty of places where God describes the authorities he has established at work, in government, and in the church.

I guess the simple question to ask yourself is, how well do you handle having others in a position over you?  I don’t know if it’s always as good as we should.  God says, “in humility value others above yourselves.”  If you don’t like hearing that, if you struggle with authorities, if all this political stuff gets you riled up, then that is exactly why God put up this guardrail.  It protects the authorities he has established to serve us.  If we are forced to do something God forbids, then we must obey God rather than people.  But if it’s just something that doesn’t always jive with my ideas, then we need this guardrail in place to protect the authorities that care for us.  God promotes this good course for us to honor, serve, and obey our parents and those in authority, because we need them for good order in the home, at work, in society, and in the church.

“You shall not murder.”  If you have been a believer for a long time or a short time or if you are completely confused by the Bible and God and faith, this commandment still makes sense.  All human lives matter to God.  Taking a life is not up to you and never will be.  That means murder, abortion, suicide – it’s all wrong.  If God has given you a life in this world he created, then only he should decide when it is over. But this commandment also covers the way we think about human life and not just what we do with it.  If you think your life would be easier and more enjoyable without that bully in your grade, or that jerk in your office, or anyone else – it doesn’t even matter if you know them or not, maybe it’s just a really terrible person on the news – then that is just like murder, except that you did it with you mind and heart and not a gun.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect his gift of life.  God promotes the good course for us to help others with our words and actions.

“You shall not commit adultery.” In the Bible God is so very very clear about marriage and sex.  Marriage is a lifelong union of one man and one woman based on the consent and commitment of love. This is the part where tons of people would want me to add stuff or take out other stuff. Because marriage should be for everyone. Sex is a basic right that you should be able to enjoy with anyone at any time.  And if you can’t have that, then just look up some porn.  Children are so great that if you want them then go ahead.  If your marriage isn’t what you thought it would be then you can get out of it and try again.  Better yet don’t get married at all; it’s just a sheet of paper.  And the cycle continues.  I can’t say those things, because God doesn’t.  He puts up this guardrail to protect us from the devil’s easy traps of immorality and lust.  He promotes the good course and right way to use his gifts of sex and marriage so that we are pure and decent.

“You shall not steal.” It helps when we remember to whom everything belongs.  God is the owner; we are merely managers and caretakers of everything he gives us.  He gives these things to us through the work we do, through gifts we receive, through returns on investments.  God can and does provide everything we need for body and life.  When we forget that he is the giver, when we forget that we are caretakers, when we forget that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, that’s when we collide with this guardrail, where God protects our possessions and the possessions of others.  God doesn’t want us to be selfish, dishonest, or tightwads.  He also doesn’t want us to be wasteful and careless.  God promotes the good course where we use our own possessions properly and look to help others with theirs.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Do you ever wonder why God has a commandment to protect the name and reputation of people?  It’s because sin makes it so easy for us to destroy others.  Maybe you won’t use a gun.  Maybe you won’t take their property or possessions.  Maybe you won’t usurp them if they are in a position of authority.  But just a couple juicy tidbits can do the deed all the same.  That’s why God is so serious about his name and the names of others.  We need God to protect us from gossiping and lying.  So God promotes the good course where our mouths are not used for spreading anything but his praise and proclaiming his gospel.  We will defend others and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  I’m thinking coveting is not a word you throw around every day.  Basically, God is saying that if he has not blessed you with something that you want or something that other people have, then you don’t need to worry about it.  The possessions you have and the possession others have shouldn’t consume you anyways.  The Bible says that kind of materialistic heart has pierced people with many griefs and even robbed some of faith.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect us from being to earthly.  God promotes the good course where we are content and thankful for what we have and keep our attention where it needs to be, on our Savior, Jesus.

Maybe you have noticed something as we walked through God’s Ten Commandments.  Maybe you realized for the millionth or for the first time that you have broken them all.  The law is like a mirror that exposes every glaring weakness.  And when I say weakness, I don’t mean that you can make up for them with all your strengths.  I mean you and I have broken God’s law to pieces and the punishment for that is not enjoyable.  The punishment is death and hell. Period.

And that’s why it’s good to see Jesus the way he is in the Gospel for today.  He takes God’s law seriously, because in order to be our Savior from sin, he had to be perfect.  Every thought, every attitude, every action, every word had to be pure and selfless and helpful.  He had to be complete zealous for the God and his name and his Word.

His perfection is all that matters.  Jesus’ road to redemption was perfect so that my pitiful excuse of a godly life and the punishment I deserve is removed. On the cross God exchanged my sin for Jesus’ holiness.  On the cross Jesus wiped my slate clean and replaced it with his perfection.  That’s the only way I can avoid the punishment for sin. Jesus had to take it for me.  And he did.

God still has the guardrails set up for us.  This is a life and world where sin still veers us off course. The perfection we have through Christ will be fully recognized in heaven.  For now, we need the guardrails to keep us on course.  By God’s grace these commandments are not just a mirror to expose all our offenses against God and others.   They are also guardrails to protect us from going off his road and to promote the right way for a child of God.  So let’s stay on course.  God grant it.  Amen.



(There is so much to talk about in each one of these commandments.  That’s why we take more than 10 lessons to cover them in Catechism class and 3 lessons in Bible Basics.  This was just a brief snapshot to see what God is protecting and promoting.  If you want to get the fuller picture, come to the Bible Basics on Monday night or go back in dig around in your Small Catechism, which organizes so much of what God says in the Bible into nice sections for each commandment.)



2.25.18 Lent


Mark 8:31-38

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”


Last week, Jesus showed us how he never needed to turnaround from sin, because he fought off every temptation of Satan.   We do need the turnaround, the repentance, because sin does find its way into our life every day.  But that turnaround from sin does not happen by putting the focus on me and my work.  Instead, repentance flows from faith in Christ and is focused on Christ’s love and forgiveness.

That doesn’t mean that the road will get easier when you turnaround from sin.  Faith in Jesus does  not mean a nice earthly existence.  In fact, God’s Word leads us in faith to turn around from sin on a regular basis and living in that new direction means there will be more opportunities for difficulties.

It’s kind of like the difference between the interstate and county highways.  The interstate is the road that is nice.  It’s fast, it’s smooth (for the most part), it’s accessible, it provides everything you could want.  Tons and tons of people take the interstate for those reasons.  But the backroads, aren’t as nice.  You can’t go as fast.  There are not as many nice stops and amenities along the way.  The road can get twisty and turny and bumpy and lumpy.   There are even stop signs and those rumble strips along the way.

That’s the difference between the road to destruction and the road to heaven.  Ironically, the road to destruction is so nice, and it is preferred for its ease and convenience. The road to heaven is tough and ugly.  It gets bumpy, painful even.

Just listen again to what Jesus was teaching his disciples.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed…”  That was the road he chose for you.  Jesus was telling his disciples that he didn’t come here to make our life on earth easier.  He didn’t come here to make men and women more capable of turning this world around.  He came here to fulfill everything God has said about the Messiah. He came here to suffer and die for sins.

But the end result is far greater than anything our suffering or pain could ever produce.  Jesus finishes by saying, “and after three days rise again.”  All the suffering he would endure as he followed this road to our redemption,  all of the excruciating pain he would be forced to  undergo, and all of the heartache he would have from knowing the separation sin creates between God, it was all worth it.  His road to winning our redemption was never going to end in a grave.  This is the only way for us to have forgiveness and life in heaven.

Inevitably, when people hear about suffering and pain, we want to avoid it.  Even if there is good news at the end, it kind of depends on what the good news is.  Think of the pain and sacrifice that Olympians go through.  Depending on the sport they train for hours a day, for weeks, months, and years to get to the top level.  In order to get to that level, they give up time, they give up some relationships, they give up some enjoyment.  To a lot of people that doesn’t seem worth it.  Why would you do that to yourself?  But at the end of it you might give yourself and your team a chance to win a gold medal.  For some that is the good news that gets them through the sacrifices.

But you know what happens when you have to wait for the good news.  You know what happens when any kind of hardship, a rough patch, or some personal sacrifices come up before you reach the goal?  We get near-sighted and lazy.  The jostles and the bumps get annoying.  The pain and suffering get frustrating.  The persecutions make us lose sight of what’s at the end.

That’s where Peter got stuck.  He didn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die.  He wanted the glory and power of God.  He wanted the good life, the restored nation of Israel, the earthly peace, and all the great miracles.  He wanted life to be good.  I mean, if you are following the Son of God, shouldn’t life be great all the time?

I think we understand where Peter is coming from.  We want to avoid the suffering and pain, too.  We rebuke the idea that suffering is necessary for Jesus and for us.  We look for the nice, smooth, wide, and fast road.   How many people want the speedbumps that jostle you and slow you down?  Who wants to be twisted and turned?  Who wants to be removed from the nice amenities and easy conveniences?  Who wants to deal with sacrifices?

We get caught looking for so many blessings that any kind of suffering, or speedbump, knocks us off track.  How easy is it to think that if God is watching over me, then nothing bad should happen?  “My life on earth should be better if God is on my side,” we say.  “I shouldn’t have any speedbumps.  It should be smooth sailing now and in forever in heaven.”

But then pain comes.  Loved ones die.  Finances get tight. Things get tough.  Relationships are tested.    People question your faith.  “The bible says what about marriage?  About respecting government and leaders?  About your money?  About your priorities?  About putting others’ needs before your own?” You start to wonder what’s up.  The jostles and hardships can make us sound like Peter. “No, Lord!  This can’t happen to me.  I need my life to be easier and better for me.”

To that notion that my life needs to be easier and less bumpy, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Well, hang in there.” When we start thinking too much about how we don’t want the speedbumps, these sufferings and persecutions, Jesus  says this: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Jesus says, “If you do not have the things of God in your mind, then there is only one other option.”  That easy way without pain, without persecution, without any speedbumps is the devil’s doing.  It makes people focus on “merely human concerns,” or to put in another way, the things that are not God’s.  And how well do you think the things that are not of God can help you have a life with him?

Jesus went the road of suffering and persecution and pain because that was God’s way to save us.  Jesus had to suffer for sin.  He didn’t have to suffer just to experience the frailty of the human existence.  He had to suffer because that is what sin deserves.

We try so hard to avoid the speedbumps in life, because they are jolting and annoying.  But that is what sinners will always have to deal with because that is life with sin.  God wants us to have the speedbumps.  He wants us to deny ourselves what so many people would call basic human needs. He wants us to follow Jesus even when there are difficulties and persecutions.

But that is not suffering for sin.  God’s punishment went on Jesus instead of you.  Jesus is the one who died for sins.  The Bible often refers to the kinds of crosses we carry as “light and momentary.”  Jesus carried the eternal weight of guilt on his shoulders, so that we would never know what that feels like. Instead, we have these little speedbumps.  We have the denial of serving our self with the pleasures and desires of this world.  We have the cross of suffering and persecution to sharpen our focus on what God has already done for us in Christ and what he will do for us in heaven.  We have the blessed joy of following a Savior who loved us so much that he took our punishment and death, so that we could have life with him.

That’s why these speedbumps are so great for us.  The get us to slow down.  They might jolt you.  They might isolate you. They might force you to giving up the way you want to go.  But that’s good.  Because then we realize that we need help, we need strength, we need comfort that the world cannot give, we need saving from the pain, we need a place where these difficulties don’t exist, a place where sin cannot get to us.

Jesus walked the tough, grueling road to provide redemption for us.  His suffering has produced the eternal reward that far outweighs any of the hardships we face on this earth.  His death provides the life that is never taken away, a life that is never disappointing.

Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life, will lose it.”  If you want to get rid of your pain and suffering in this world so that you can have a great life with all sorts of worldly conveniences, then you won’t have a life with Jesus.  But Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.”  When we follow Jesus in faith the world will say we lose certain things.  Maybe the next time you can let loose and get a little rowdy will be lost.  Maybe the guy, who is so great in so many ways except for his stubborn refusal to listen about your faith in Jesus, will have to be lost.  Maybe the promotion will be lost because you are not willing to stomp on others.  Maybe friends will be lost.  Maybe the focus on all the possessions and hobbies and stuff will be lost.

It might seem like you are denying somethings that would be so nice to have.  It might seem that we miss out.  It might seem like people are looking down on you and making you feel worthless.  But there is one looking down who is not ashamed.  He is glad to call you ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’  He is glad to speak in glowing terms to the Father in heaven about you.  He is glad to prepare a place in his home for you.

These speedbumps are necessary in life.  We need them to slow us down and get our attention where it needs to be.  Jesus is the only one who can save our life.  Following him might get difficult, but he has overcome every one of our light and momentary hardships with an eternal victory that will not disappoint us.  So slow down and enjoy his road, speedbumps and all.  God grant it.  Amen.


2.18.18 Lent 1B


Mark 1 :12-15

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

I was watching a skiing race the other night.  It amazes me how anyone in their right mind would want to careen down a mountain at 80 miles per hour on two little skis without any padding.  As I watched, I saw a couple skiers take pretty bad falls down the mountain into those few layers of fencing they have set up on either side of the course to catch out-of-control competitors from going into the trees.  A few skiers later I saw something that I hadn’t seen before: one skier was pushing his way back up the mountain.  Now, why in the world would a skier in the Olympics turn around in the middle of his moment on the world’s stage?  He missed a gate.  A downhiller has to weave in and out of those designated markers to successfully complete the course and register a time.  If you don’t, if you miss just one, you are disqualified, and you won’t show up in the final results.  This guy missed a gate.  So, he stopped himself, turned around, and went back up the course a bit to do it the right way.

Have you ever missed a gate before?  I’m not talking about skiing in the Olympics.  I think it’s pretty safe to assume we don’t have any Olympians here this morning, right?  I’m talking about life.  You know the way God has laid out for you – he’s got a guideline for his people, “your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” – and you missed a gate.  On purpose or on accident doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you went off the course.  Do you know what you need at those times?  A turnaround.

The people living in Palestine during Jesus’ day needed a turnaround, badly.  The Jewish religion was trying to show people what they had to do for happiness and contentment, how they had to deal with their guilt and sin, and how they had to appease God by making their own turnaround. That Jewish religious road, however, was leading to a disqualification (hell), because the search was focused on themselves, on what they had to do.

If you could follow through on your end, then God would follow through on his end.  That was the deal. First, you show how well you can represent the name of Abraham and Israel and David, and then God would bless you, hopefully in similar ways to Abraham and Israel.  First, you follow the works and rituals to demonstrate your worthiness to God, and then you will be rewarded.

This is not a foreign system in the 21st century.  The road the Jews were paving was way narrower, more black and white, but the religious systems today still have the same focus: me first.  If I am acceptable in my culture and society, if I am dedicated to being what I think kind is, if I am tolerant and open-minded with people, if I am trying hard to be a better person, if I have a religion and I’m dedicated without being to closed off and biased, then all of those things should put me on the right path.  I am showing myself worthy to whatever god I follow.  I have earned the respect of others.  I am deserving of blessings.  I should get whatever reward I’m looking for.

This is a road that is so easy to pave for ourselves, too.  Me first sounds so logical.  If you are nice, then nice things should happen to you.  This 21st century religious open-mindedness sounds so loving and kind.  My acceptance and kindness, and it will make this world better.  It sounds like this road of togetherness and peace would lead in the right direction.

But that is the irony.  A road that puts the focus on me first and what I do won’t help me with God.  Because my road is always going to shoot off the course God has laid out.  My way has never, does never, and will never line up with his way, because my road is sinful, and his road is perfect. My road leads to disqualification and his road leads to redemption.

So the question becomes, how can a sinner be on God’s perfect road that leads to perfect glory in heaven?  Jesus shows us how.  It’s a turnaround from religious rituals and observances.  It’s a turnaround from what our cultural definitions of religion, faith, love, and God.  It’s a turnaround from personal passions and pleasures.  It’s a turnaround from putting the focus on me and what I do.   It’s a turnaround from anything that is distracts us from the kingdom of God.

Jesus says, “Repent and believe the good news!”  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow after all of that stuff that seems to make so much sense.  You’re going the wrong way if you think you can make yourself more acceptable to God than others because of what you do or who you are related to.”  That’s what those people in Palestine needed to hear, and we do to.  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow those who water down the Bible into something we can all agree with.  You’re going the wrong way if you want to make this world your home.”  He says, “Turn around.  Don’t continue going the way that is contrary to God’s.  Repent.”

Isn’t it nice to know there is someone loving enough, someone interested in your life enough, someone who is willing to give you the tough talk you need? That is good news for us.  It is good news that someone is willing to shout, “Turn around!”

When a racer goes off course, misses a gate in a ski race, or misses a flag like I once did in a cross-country race in high school, it’s really important to have someone who is willing and able to point that out.  I would have been disqualified for missing one right hand turn, but someone was there to call me out and got me back on track so that I could finish the race the right way.

Do you see how necessary that is?  When we talk about repentance, turning around from sin, we need to remember this is not my work to make God happy with me.  A sinner can’t make themselves turn from a sinful road, can we?  We need someone perfect to turn us around.  That’s Jesus.

He went in the desert to face off against Satan so that he could overcome our temptations.  He could see that sinful road, but he said no.  That way wouldn’t lead to our redemption.  Sure, Jesus would have had food for his belly, he would have had power in this world, he would have proved the power of angels, but none of that was what Jesus came to do.  He said no to Satan, because Jesus came to follow the perfect road.  That was the only way to give us redemption.

That’s the good news he was preaching in Galilee.  Jesus was here to defeat Satan.  He was here to say no to the sinful road.  He was here to provide the turnaround that sinners needed.  By his perfect life a new road is ours.  Jesus was proclaiming the gospel of free and full forgiveness given to sinners by the perfect love of a perfect God and Savior, not earned by sinners.  That’s not possible.  That is like a bunch of cheaters trying to compete for who will be less disqualified than the other cheaters. It’s nonsense.

Jesus has good news for us, a shabby bunch of people who couldn’t stay on course if our life depended on it.  His good news is that he never once strayed from the perfect road.  He fought the devil off.  His perfect life is for us.  There’s more.  He is also that person who is willing and perfectly able to shout out, “Turn around” when he sees us going off course.

Brothers and sisters, do we ever need that!  We need the voice of Jesus calling out after us to turn around.  Maybe it’s a parent.  Maybe it’s a pastor.  Maybe it’s a friend.  We need the voice of the Savior who fought against sin perfectly and gave us the perfect road to heaven.  We need to know when we have strayed from God’s way.  When people are willing to show you, rejoice that people look out for you as Jesus would want them to.  Rejoice that your God has a different road for you.

And then, repent, turn around from the sin that leads to disqualification.  Turn around from the sins that might be popular or easy.  Turn around from the things that you thought were maybe ok but on second or third glance might be questionable.  Turn around from the sins that don’t just offend parents and the family of God, but they offend God.  Jesus did not come to live here, he did not earn the perfect life that was necessary for us, he did not give up his perfect life with such a gruesome sacrifice on the cross, he did not conquer death for us, he did not make us his children through the power of his Word and baptism, he did not send the Spirit into our hearts so that we would throw it all away.  He did all of that to save us from hell.

That’s the good news that leads us, guides us, motivates us, and gets us to turn around.  Repentance is not me first.  Repentance is God’s Word at work.  It’s listening to your Father’s loving voice. It’s sorrow to God for the slipups and selfishness.  It’s sorrow to God for accidents and ignorance, for bad purposes and choices.  It’s sorrow to God for all of the messes and mistakes.  It’s turning around from all of that.

And when you hear the voice of Jesus, calling out to repent, do you know what you see when you turn around?  You don’t see a long list of all the things you need to do to get back into God’s good grace.  You don’t see all these angry faces.  You sure better not.  God says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  You see loving face of Jesus.  You see the object of your faith that made you turn around in the first place.  You see all that he has done for you.  You see the road that he traveled so that he could shut the doors of hell and open the gates of heaven for you.  You see and hear good news from the Savior who knows you and loves you.

Jesus’ road to win our redemption was hard.  We are going to look at during this worship series.  Today, we see how the turnaround happened.  It wasn’t me first.  It is Jesus first.  It is his love walking the road to redemption for us.  It is his grace suffering the punishment of sins for us.  It is his gospel changing sinners into God’s children through faith in Jesus.  It is his voice calling out after us when we stray.  It his good news of forgiveness and life getting us back on track.  It is his never-ending work through the Word and sacraments keeping us going.

You don’t need to be ashamed when you hear the word “repent” or when you hear the voice of the Savior coming from someone who cares calling out to “turn around.”  Be thankful that God cares that much.  Be sorrowful that you got of his path.  And be faithful as he guides you.  God grant it.  Amen.






1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.


When Mandy and I were engaged, we went through premarriage counseling with one of my professors at the Seminary.  It’s something I ask all engaged couples to do.  It’s just a good idea before you get married to take some time and learn from the one who created marriage, how it is going to work out well in your life.  During that class, I remember a list of instructions and encouragements.  And one of the items was: avoid “always” and “never.”  Those two words don’t lead down a good road for a marriage.  They are hyperbolic, exaggerations.  Sometimes you could say “them be fightin’ words.”  They go to the extreme and make a situation worse than it actually is.  You say something like, “You are never home when you say you will be.”  “You always forget to change the toilet paper roll when it’s empty.”   In reality, you were home late 2 or 3 times last week or you forgot to restock the toilet paper roll once or twice recently.  When you use words like always and never, it’s not quite accurate and it heightens tension.

In this section for God’s Word today, the Apostle Paul is giving some instructions in this letter that he first sent to a group of Christians in Thessalonica.  These are quick phrases, almost like Paul is running out of room as he gets the end of this parchment or scroll.  “Pray continually. Give thanks! Don’t quench the Spirit…”   And right there at the beginning is “Rejoice always.”  He uses one of the sweeping hyperboles that you just shouldn’t use.

He has to be exaggerating, right?  There is no possible way that God would have Paul write down in the Bible that we need to rejoice always, be happy all the time.  Doesn’t he know what kind of world we live in?  Maybe he doesn’t understand the kind of 21st Century problems that are consuming us day by day:  mass shootings, bigotry, political divides deeper than the Grand Canyon, financial insecurity, bullying, suppression against all types of races and religions, sexual harassment and abuse, the promiscuous and immoral ideologies about sexuality, the idolization of Hollywood, the greed, the lust, the hate – shall I go on?  When Paul wrote this, it was a different time.  It must have been an easier time.

Well, the same kind of people who put Jesus to death were still trying to remove his name from the earth.  That meant wherever they heard rumblings of houses or gatherings where Jesus was being preached and taught, there they were to threaten, pressure, put down, and persecute.  How would you live if you knew being here might mean you’d would have a target on your back, you could lose your job, your house could be vandalized or burglarized, your family could be in danger, or worse?

Or is Paul one of those guys who is telling this fledgling group of believers and us that we should spend a day in his shoes?  Is he saying, “You have those little problems.  You can imagine what I’ve been through.  I’ve been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, shackled so many times.  I’m literally in danger wherever I go.  I cannot escape the price on my head.  Seriously, you guys should just relax and count your blessings.  You guys should be content that you don’t have it like me.  You have every reason to be happy. You guys should enjoy your life.  Rejoice always, because you have it pretty good.”

Is this just a Paul thing?  Is he the only Bible-writer that thinks we can “always look on the bright side of life?” Actually, Peter says something pretty similar: “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…”  It’s in the Old Testament, too: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” And “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Even if this is day where you are facing a huge mess, even if you are in the lowest point of your life, it’s still a time to be happy.  Jesus, himself, had this to say, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad.”

The whole Bible is full of this kind of language, and every time you come a cross it, does it make sense?  In every circumstance, all the time we are supposed to rejoice?  How is that possible?  How can I rejoice when I don’t understand what is going on in my life, or when I don’t know how to do what is asked of me, when I’m not sure what the next stage has in store, or when my beliefs might get me in trouble?  “Rejoice always?  Tell me how.”

Maybe it’s not a bunch of questions that come to mind when you hear this, but it is the heaps of past unhappiness.  God says “rejoice always,” and the guilt starts to weigh you down because you can probably remember a whole bunch of times when rejoicing and happiness was the last thing on your mind.  You don’t have a smile on your face when the kids are being less then helpful.  You don’t have a smile on your face when you see the gas prices rising.  You don’t have a smile on your face when you see the lines at the store or someone in the line behind you is the chatty type and you have a headache.  You don’t have a smile on your face when you or a loved one gets a tough call from the doctor.

Is that type of stuff a sin?  In light of these words, “rejoice always,” is it a sin to be sad, to deal with depression, to be grumpy, or to react negatively?  Our knee-jerk response would be, “No!  You’re speaking metaphorically.  You are using a hyperbole.  You’re exaggerating.”

But don’t be so quick to say that.  If I’m sad because I have come to the realization that I am not in control of my life, then my sadness is a symptom of a sin called idolatry.  I want to be in control, I want the power, I want to be the god of my earthly life, which means God has to take a back seat.  That sadness is breaking the first commandment.  If I’m sad because someone else is causing me pain and “what in the world is wrong with them and I wish they would just stop or I wish I could shut them up for a while,” then my sadness shows that I’m not loving others as I should.  I’m not being the humble servant God wants me to be.  If I’m sad because my life is not as easy as them and “I just wish I could get ahead and have a few of the things they had,” then my sadness shows that I’ve got some greed and lust and coveting in my heart.  In these situations, God’s Word shows us that we have some work to do.

We can also turn this encouragement into an oppression that never allows real joy.  Instead, we just feel the pressure. “If I’m a Christian I always have to be happy.  I always have to have a smile on my face and tears are not allowed.  I have to prove my faith with my joy.”

But God had Paul record this, not to be an oppressive law to follow or to heap a load of guilt onto our shoulders, but for one main reason.  God wants to draw attention to the improbable and impressive gift we have from his loving heart.  In fact, this gift is so incredible that it can cause rejoicing and happiness every minute of every day God gives us on this little third rock from the sun.

The one way to rejoice always does not come from the physical blessings I have (or the ones you are hoping to have in 8 days).  It does not come from the other sinners taking up space next to me for a few decades on this little third rock from the sun.  Rejoicing does not come from the triumphs and success I have produced with my skills and efforts.  Rejoicing does not come from the positive emotions that swell so much I just can’t keep them in any longer.  The one way to rejoice always comes from the one who is with us.

Do you ever see those videos of a soldier coming back from duty?  The wife and kids are jacked out of their minds to be with their dad or mom again.  Do you think that soldier who is a father of two kids that are finally in his arms is upset or sad at that moment if he finds out all his luggage is lost?  Not a chance.  He his rejoicing because of who he is with.  Do you think those kids are bummed out because of a bad grade or bullies at school?  No.  They are rejoicing because of who they are with.  To rejoice always is not so much about positive emotions or favorable circumstances, but it’s about who is with you.

This time of year is an overwhelming reminder of who that is.  It’s not a funny snowman.  It’s not a jolly man from the North Pole.  It’s not an elf on the shelf.  It’s not a red-nosed reindeer.  It’s not Clark Griswold or Ralphie Parker.  This advent tune we just sang tells the story.   Rejoice! Rejoice!  Immanuel shall come to you oh Israel.  You have a God who came here to be with us, even in the rotten, sinful world, he came to be here with us so that we could be with him forever in heaven.  That song reminds us that Jesus once came to be with us to save us from our unhappy wretchedness, to save us from our sinful sadness, to save us from an eternity of doom and gloom.  He was happy to do it, not because you earned it with your sunny disposition or positive outlook, but because of he loves you that much and he wants to be with you.

Isn’t that reason to rejoice every day and always?  Your God came to be with you and promised to never leave you or forsake you until he returns to take you home.  That makes a merry Christmas.  That makes a Happy New Year.  That makes a gleeful Groundhog’s day.  That makes ever single day of your life a day of rejoicing.

And how does that rejoicing take shape?  Today, Paul is not advocating that in every and any circumstance you are ready to burst into the Hallelujah chorus.  But…but, the God who is with us gives us endless opportunities to rejoice always.  Maybe it’s your disposition, how you carry yourself and how people would describe your attitude and temperament.  Maybe it’s your volunteerism.  Maybe it’s your giving heart.  Maybe it’s your positive encouragement.  Maybe it’s your patience and loyalty. But we all have a way, in our own God-given way, to rejoice because God is with us in every single situation you have ever been in and every situation you will ever face in your entire lifetime on this little third rock from the sun.

And so if the day comes where you have to call me to the hospital, rejoice always because God is with us with the gift of his Son.  If you are looking at the impending December 24th with a little anxiety because this is the first one where grandpa or mom isn’t there, rejoice always because God is there with his assurance that not even death can separate us from his love in Christ.  When you are sulking in the darkness of your sin, when you are overcome with the thought that God might not be on your side, when you are hard-pressed with guilt, rejoice always because God proved he is with you when he left heaven for a feed box, for a brutal death, for an empty tomb that opens heaven for, as Paul says, even the worst of sinners.

Today, this is not hyperbole and exaggeration.  You and I have reason to rejoice always because it is not dependent on us.  After all these final instructions, do you recall how Paul ends this section?  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  If you want to know the one way to be happy always, it’s right there:  God is with us and always will be.  Amen.








The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” 
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ” 

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


When you use a tool the wrong way, what do you expect to happen?  I wanted to make some venison burgers on Friday night.  I was told it’s a good idea to mix a little pork with it first, so I got out our KitchenAid mixer and the meat grinding attachment.  I had used it before, so I started putting it together and grinding some of the pork and venison together.  But as it was going I started noticing some dark spots and it wasn’t shooting out the meat very well.  Mandy came in and asked, “Did you put it together right?”  “Yeah, of course I did.  I’ve done this before.  I know what I’m doing.”  Then, she shows me the spinning piece for the front of the grinder that I forgot to put in.  I had to throw that little bit that did make it through away, because those dark spots were little metal shavings or lubricant that got mixed into the meat because I was missing a piece.  When you use a tool the wrong way, what do you expect to happen?

You’ve done it before.  I’ve done it.  I’ve certainly seen it plenty.  When you have kids, it seems like they will try to make anything work.  I’ve seen Issy and Lute use some of their toys for a whole bunch of different purposes other than just playing.  We expect these kinds of things to work, maybe not as well as it could, but it will at the very least get the job done, so we think.  Then, when it doesn’t happen or someone ends up hurt, you realize that you should have just taken the time to use the right tool the right way.

Advent is all about Christ’s coming.  It’s about preparing for him.  So, getting ready for Christ’s coming means you need to have the right tools and you need to use them the right way. That thought came to mind as I studied the Gospel for today.

People need the right way to get ready for the Christ.  Back then and still today, we could never come up with it on our own.  When it comes to spiritual life, can a person ever legitimately think, “I’ve got this covered.  I can take care of my spiritual life the way I want to with my own abilities and my own thoughts?”  No, if God is the Spirit and he is one who gave us ours, then we need what he gives to keep us spiritually strong and healthy people, especially as we get ready for Christ’s coming.

Do you know how that process works, to be strong, healthy, and fit?  Let’s just talk about it physical terms first. It takes the right tools used the right way.   And it might hurt.  I’m in the middle of that hurt right now.  A few weeks ago, because I was not doing my best in the realm of fitness and health, I started up a workout system called Insanity.  It’s an insane cardio, death-defying 45 minutes 5 mornings a week.  It’s not what a lot of people consider fun.  It doesn’t feel good.  My muscles are being tugged and torn, so that they can be rebuilt.  My lungs are screaming.  My heart is pumping upwards of 180 beats a minute at some parts.  But that’s how you get better.  Combining that kind of regular exercise with healthy foods and, voila, I’m healthier, stronger, and fit.

But it’s not easy. This training system is not telling me what I want to hear.  What I want to hear is, “Sleep in and eat a bunch of donuts and bacon all morning.”  What I want to hear is, “Go ahead and have a third helping.  And when you get done with that, how about some ice cream?”  What I want to hear is, “You will be fine if you just do whatever makes you happy.”

Now, if that’s not how it works when you want to get into better physical shape and be healthier, do you expect that to work when it comes to being spiritually healthy?  Can you expect good results when you don’t have the right equipment, or don’t use the it the right way?

Like I said, God is the only one who can give us the path to a healthy spiritually life, and God is the only one who can show us the right way as we get ready for Jesus’ coming.  That’s what he was doing with a man named John.

Now, John was a recluse who lived in the desert, ate bugs and wild honey, and wore a camel hide around (and I don’t think he was trying to start a new trend). God gave them someone very unexpected.   And John’s job was just as unexpected. His job was not to tell people what they wanted to hear.  His job was not to be a cheerleader for whatever they already had going.  His job was to prepare them God’s way, a way they didn’t expect. Sometimes he said things that the people didn’t want to hear: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” As we get ready for Christ’s second coming, God still gives us a message that is sometimes hard to hear.  “Straighten out!” he says.

When it comes to staying fit, we want to hear, “Eat the donuts and bacon and sit on the couch as much as you want.  You don’t need to push yourself.  You don’t need to go through the pain and exertion.”  But what do you expect will happen when you listen to what you want to hear?  You’re never going to lose those extra pounds.

Spiritually, when you want to be fit and ready for Christ, you can’t always listen to what you want to hear.  God has somethings to say in his Word that might hurt a bit, but it is for our good.  He is straightening us out.  He’s getting us stronger and spiritually healthier.

When he tells us that our devotional life, prayer life, or worship life is sporadic to the point of damaging our faith and the faith of our children, it hurts.  When he tells you or he tells me that my offerings are a meager reflection of what he has blessed me with, that hurts.  When God says that my actions and attitudes are supposed to be a bright, shining light in this world and when he looks he asks, “Why are you living like a child of darkness?  Why, when I listen to the words coming out of your mouth, do I hear praise and cursing?  Why, when I see your actions, do they not resemble the good things I have prepared for my children to do?  Why, when I look at your heart, is it darkened with selfishness and negativity?” – that hurts because I know it’s true.

But that’s not the end of it.  The hurt leads us somewhere.  God does not just want you to hurt and that’s the end.  It’s like a workout.  The diet and exercise done the right way doesn’t end in pain.  The pain in your muscles and the pain of saying no to some of your favorite foods leads to getting more fit and healthier.  That’s how God’s spiritual training works. His Word strengthens us, it turns us into a new direction, a direction that is spiritually better for us.  This new direction is straighter and smoother, even if there is some difficulties in getting there.

For people who are hurting, there is peace.  For people who are sad, there is joy.  For people who are broken, there is comfort. Did you hear that from the Prophet Isaiah, today?  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…  That was also God’s message through John to these people who were hearing some things that were tough to hear.  They had been hurt by God’s message, but God was preparing them for his good news, the good news of a Savior who was coming.

Mark quoted these words in speaking about John the Baptist.  Yes, he was unexpected.  Yes, his words were unexpected.  Yes, the people were sometimes hurt by his words.  And yes, God was turning them from the wrong kind of spiritual life.  The hurt was leading to a healthy and strong spiritual life, a life ready for the coming of Christ, a life on the straight and narrow.

That’s what repentance is, brothers and sisters.  It hurts to hear.  There is pain in God pointing out your sins.   There is a burden that becomes too heavy to carry.  And through repentance, God lifts the burden.

But it’s not up to you to do the heavy lifting.  When I began the sermon I said, “When you use a tool the wrong way, what do you expect to happen?”  If you think repentance is your work that God recognizes and rewards, you are using it the wrong way.  If you think repentance is the get-out-of-jail-free card, you are using it the wrong way.  If you think repentance is finishing up the work that Jesus began for you, you are using it the wrong way.

Repentance is simply the Christian spiritual workout.  Through his Word, God brings us to the realization that we are out of shape.  God shows us where we need some work.  He gives the new direction, the new regimen for the healthy, stronger spiritual life.  And he gives us the motivation and willpower to turn things around.  It’s all from him.

And do you know what that will power is?  It’s not that I’m going to look so good for God, that I will be blessed more.  It’s not that my life is going to start getting better and better here on earth.  It’s not that I’m going to be such an asset for the people around me.

Those things could potentially happen, but the real willpower for repentance is that Christ loved you to the point that he was willing to leave heaven for you.  He was willing to carry your heavy burden of sin.  He was willing to live according to God’s perfect expectations.  He was willing to suffer the punishment and pain.  He loved you to the point where his last breath was exhausted from his body, because you could never pay for your sins.  He felt the full wrath of God’s anger against sin, so that you and I would never know what that’s like.  Yes, repentance hurts when God points out our sin and we can only hang our head and confess it, but it will never hurt like the separation Jesus was forced to endure.  He did that for us.

That’s the motivation for repentance.  God has given us this new life in Christ.  God has given us his law and gospel.  God has given us the reality of heaven.  Nothing can take that away from us.  So, the spiritual exercise of repentance helps us on the journey.  It is God’s way of helping stay spiritually healthy.

The way John says it: God is getting us to straighten and smooth the way for Christ because he is coming soon.  Preparing for Christ’s coming, you don’t have to try and convince Christ that there are no potholes, unwanted twists and turns in your life.  Preparing for Christ’s coming, you don’t have to veer off the wrong way thinking your hard work and confession saves you.  Preparing for Christ’s coming means listening to the unexpected message that sometimes hurts, when God points out what’s wrong in my life or what is missing.  Preparing for Christ’s coming means listening to the way God takes care of the crooked and rough places of my life with his loving forgiveness.  Preparing for Christ’s coming means continually going through the spiritual exercise of repentance to enjoy the health and strength that God provides.

That is how to use repentance the right way.  God grant it.  Amen.





Isaiah 64

1Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.


This past week I was flipping through Netflix as I often do when it’s getting late and I’m giving Jet his bottle, and I saw the movie based on the book, The Case for Christ.  So, over a couple nights I watched it.  It’s the story of Lee Strobel’s quest to prove Christianity false.  He read the Bible.  He read books about the Bible.  He went to presentations.  He held interviews with professionals in all sorts of fields: psychiatry, medicine, theology, linguistics, archaeology, and on.  He was a raging atheist who was expecting to prove his wife’s new-found faith wrong.  Do you know what happened to Lee?  All his investigating, his interviews, his reading, and research led him to a very surprising, unexpected conclusion: it’s all real.  Christ, his death and resurrection, the Bible, the faith, the church, all of it is real.  He went from a man on a mission to bring down Christianity, to a man with a mission to bring Christianity to all.

Now, I’m not going to say you have to queue it up on Netflix tonight.  I’m not going to say you have to look up Lee Strobel and all his books.  In fact, the doctrine he preaches and writes, isn’t always what you will read in the Bible.  But I will say this, God does not operate according to our expectations.  Lee Strobel expected to prove Jesus and the Bible wrong, but what really happened was so much different.

That is also something Isaiah noticed during his years as a prophet in Judah.  The people of Judah and Israel thought they knew what would happen.  They were God’s people, descendants of Abraham, chosen as heirs of God’s kingdom.  They took that as a license to do whatever they wanted to do, because God would always be on their side.  If you told them that God would allow the Assyrian empire to ransack the north and carry Israel away form their homeland as exiles of war, they would have laughed it off.  “Never!  We are God’s people.  He would never do something like that.”

Well, during Isaiah’s 60 years as prophet that is exactly what happened.  Israel in the north was leveled, never to return as a nation.  The people living in the south, in Judah, were supposed to get the hint that God takes his Word and his people seriously.  He loves like the gracious and all-powerful Father he is, but even a loving father has to discipline and rebuke and train his child.

Isaiah had the job of warning the people of Judah that they too would suffer God’s discipline if they did not take God’s message and his grace seriously. If Judah did not listen, the nation of Babylon would rise up and do the same things that happened in the north.  Judah would be carried off into Babylonian captivity.  But that would not last forever.  God would get his message across to the people and continue to keep his promise of the coming Savior.  In fact, the Savior would come and rescue people from sin and hell.  He would set up a kingdom that never ends.  God’s people, all true believers, would enjoy this promised deliverance for eternity in heaven.  It’s as if God was telling all the people in Judah, through the prophet Isaiah’s message, to expect the unexpected. And then, everything happened exactly the way God had said.  The people in Judah didn’t expect it at all, and yet it was the stunning reality for them.

Expectation vs. Reality is the new worship series for Advent.  As I was looking through the assigned Scriptures lessons for the next few weeks, I kept thinking of the expectations we have and how reality is often such a striking contrast.  It’s kind of like the people of Israel and Judah during Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet.  What are the expectations and then what really happens can be so far apart.

This week in our Scripture readings, the topic is Christ’s coming.  It’s not his coming as a baby in Bethlehem but his coming at the End of Time.  If you think about that is not an odd place to start our preparation for Christmas.  To enjoy why Jesus came the first time, you have to see where it leads.

Jesus came from heaven once before so that God’s promise would be fulfilled and heaven would be opened.  God did what no one expected.  He actually took on human flesh for us so that people could have heavenly bodies forever with him.  That’s the final goal.  That’s where Christmas leads.

So, is that where your focus is right now?  Is that where your eager expectations are aiming?  I don’t know if that is how we operate at this time of year.  There is so much going on, so much to get ready for the next 21 days.  (Yes!  That’s all you have.)  And look how much we do to get ready for that?  People expect so much out of Christmas every year, and the reality is it can never provide what people really need.  We can try and try and try as much as we want, but even a really great Christmas celebration this year can’t fix what’s wrong.

Isaiah writes, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  All our best efforts can’t change the facts of what is going on in my heart and yours.  When the focus is on the present, or all the presents, then we aren’t ready for what’s coming, for who’s coming.

And we fall into this trap all the time.  We get wrapped up with all the earthly stuff, because we expect that the End is far off.  Instead of alert, ready, and watchful for Christ to come back, we are alert, ready, and watchful for the next big deal, for the next party invitation, for the family members to arrive.

It’s like the people of Israel and the people of Judah.  We focus on ourselves. That kind of preparation leads away from our God.  And that kind of self-centered life that leaves Jesus on the back burner leads Isaiah to ask for us, Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?  When you think that our Lord is not vital in your life every day, every hour, every breath, then is it a surprise that he seems distant?  When you put him second or third or 15 down the priority list, what do you expect the relationship will be like?  Not the best.

That should make us expect something terrible at the End of time.  For people who do not put God first, can we really expect God to come for us?  It would make a whole lot more sense for Jesus to come against us, for him to destroy us.

Brothers and sisters listen to what Isaiah says.  When you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.  God did not do what we expect.  Yes, there was trembling, but it was the enemies of God.  Satan didn’t stand a chance.  Sin, death, and hell were not a match for Christ when he came down the first time.  He is the Redeemer, the rescuer, the deliverer.  He did not crush us, but the serpent’s head.  That is the reality that exists for you.  Your sins are gone from your record.  Every time you have let the earthy stuff distract you, every time our Lord has been pushed to the back burner, every time we have not lived up to God’s holy expectations, every time has been washed away.  We are cleansed.  We are children of the Most High God.  Isaiah puts it this way. You, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

God’s reality for us is better than anything we could ever expect.  Heaven is our home.  Christ made the full payment for us when he came down the first time.  Now, he is preparing the places in paradise for you and me and all believers.  He’s getting ready for his return.

So, we should, too.  Getting ready for that is a little different than the all the stuff you’re seeing lately.  It’s not filling up on all sorts of treats, it’s filling up on God’s Word. It’s not putting up strings of lights, it’s putting up your light of faith.  It’s not giving presents, it’s giving the gospel of Jesus.  It’s not sending invitations for parties, it’s sending invitations to worship.  The Christmas stuff is not sinful, but it can be if it doesn’t leave you any room to prepare for Christ.

All that stuff is very easy to understand.  We see it.  We hear it.  It comes.  It goes.  We expect it every year. But the reality that God has provided for us goes way beyond expectations.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

This time of year, it’s good to talk about the End.  It’s where Christmas always leads us.  Through Christ, God tells us to expect the unexpected.  Sinners are forgiven.  Heaven is open.  Our place in paradise is purchased and ready.  Christ is coming to take us there.  Be ready.  Be alert.  As Jesus says, “Watch!”  And as you prepare, use these ancient words from Isaiah as your prayer: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.   Amen.




10.29.17 Week 5

STILLDaniel 6

It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
6 So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”
The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”
13 Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.
15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”
16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.
19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”
23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.
25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
“May you prosper greatly!

26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
from the power of the lions.”



What would possess this man to do such a thing?  He takes a stand that is not popular at all.  He goes up against the governing authorities of his day.  If he won’t amend his way of life to fit in with the norm, the possibility of death becomes much much more likely. And yet, he doesn’t change.  Why?  Don’t you think it has to be something so important and vital that he could not live without it?

That’s the familiar story of Daniel before us today.  He is living and working in the kingdom of Persia.  He is successful, trustworthy, and powerful.  The king of Persia, in fact, had plans to make this exiled Jewish transplant his number two in command over the whole kingdom.

But the other rulers and administrators don’t like that idea at all.  You see, they see something odd about Daniel.  He marches to beat of a different drummer.  He doesn’t play the same political games.  He is honest, humble, and upright.  Ironically, those are not the traits they are looking for.  They want to find a way to get rid of him.

What would possess another man to do something so very similar in a different place and at a different time?  He takes a stand that is not permitted by the church or empire.  If he won’t amend his way of life to fit with the norm of his day, the possibility of death becomes much much more likely. And yet, he doesn’t back down.  Why?  Don’t you think it has to be something so important and vital that he could not live without it?

That’s the familiar story of Dr. Martin Luther.  He is a monk and theology professor living and working in little old Wittenberg, Germany.  He had no power whatsoever, because that was being craved and consumed by the pope and councils in the catholic church and by Charles V, the emperor.  But that did not stop him from going against the grain and taking a stand.  And because he did, here we stand 500 years later in a different place and at a different time in a Lutheran Church.

What made men like Daniel take a stand?   In the 2000 years between Daniel and Dr. Luther, more people were put to the test, more people were persecuted, more people were even killed for standing up in a similar way.  What could cause such an uproar that it shook the whole world back then and still does 2500 years after Daniel and 500 after Luther put up those 95 theses? What was so important to Daniel and Dr. Luther that they could not imagine life without it?

It really comes down to a single question: who gets the glory?  The rulers who were against Daniel wanted the glory and praise for themselves and for the king.  Luther’s opponents in the church coveted and carried supreme authority and control.  The glory and praise always went back to Rome.

Today, the question still remains.  People take a stand – or they kneel – or they take to social media to put the glory, the praise, the attention where they think it should be.  What is important to them, what is praiseworthy, what is vital for life – that is what it’s all about.  And the list is extensive: racial equality, justice equality, marriage equality, protecting our natural resources, the end of sexual abuse, fixing the problem of global warming, education and on and on it goes.  Many of these things are very worthwhile, very important even.  Some would say that life as they know and like it would cease to exist, that the world would be a far worse place without some of these things.  Who is getting the glory, when these are the things upon which people take a stand.

What is it for you?  What is vital and important?  If a person looks at your life or your Facebook posts, what is the thing that you can’t imagine life without?  Is it your family – parents, children or siblings?  Your job?  Your income?  Your personal goals?  Your hobbies and interests?  Your favorite teams?  Your pets?  Your politics?  Your possessions?  Your routine? Your religious observances?

If these are the things most important to you, can any of them give you the peace and security you need? Can any of those ideals or goals lead you in a direction that will always keep you safe from the chaos?  Can any of those possessions and passions stay with you when everything is falling apart, when people don’t like you, and when your life hangs in the balance? Can any of those things to which we give such devotion and allegiance silence the voices of evil?  Can any of those things stand the test of time and cut through the course of history with unequaled power and authority?  Can any of those things shut the mouths of lions?

Then, they obviously should not be getting so much glory.  They should not be such a huge part of life.  They should not be the things that we put on the list of vitally important for my life.  There is only one thing that can be on that list.

Here’s what happened to Daniel.  At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions…”

When it comes to the good and honest man that Daniel is, there is only one who gets the glory. When it comes to standing up to the other rulers who are trying to get rid of Daniel, there is only one who gets the glory.  When it comes to shutting the mouths of lions, there is only one person who gets the glory.  It’s not Daniel, but it’s the Lord God who made him who he was.  It’s the Lord God who had the power that Daniel trusted.  It’s the Lord God who had to control over his creation and shut the mouths of the lions.

And so when history leads us to a similar man, who gets the glory?   When it comes to boldness to stand up to the corruption and false teachings of the church, when it comes to the authority on which this whole movement began, and when it comes to the message that could not be quieted or quashed in Wittenberg and Germany and throughout Europe, there is only one who gets the glory.  It is the Lord God who stand up to the corruption and false teachings.  It is the Lord God who has supreme authority.  It is the Lord God who has a message that will not be removed from this world until he says it’s time.

500 years later, nothing has changed.  The Lord God, and he alone, gets the glory.  We are not here today to praise Daniel.  We are not here today to praise Dr. Luther.  We are not here today to praise any pastors, teachers, or missionaries who have gone before us.  We here to give all our best praise and glory to God alone.

And do you know why?  It’s not just because he can do cool things like shutting the mouths of lions for a night.  It’s not just because he can turn a lowly priest and professor named Luther into one of the most influential people this world has ever known.  Those things are certainly impressive, but there is more.  God alone gets the glory because of the things we have been talking about this past month, the essential truths of God that have been boldly presented, professed, and proclaimed by prophets and priests of the Old Testament, missionaries and ministers of the New Testament, professors and princes of the Reformation, and still to this day by people just like us.

Remember back to the beginning of this month, what were the children of Israel doing?  Nothing that deserves the glory!  They were wallowing and wailing at the Red Sea.  But God showed them how he saves people when told them to be still and parted the sea, let them go safely through, and then swallowed the Egyptian army up entirely.  Only the Lord saves people.  It’s Christ and Christ alone.   Then, we saw a much smaller group of Israelite people after they had returned from exile.  They heard from God’s Word and saw how it stands alone, not as a book of rules or advice, but as the Words of a God who loves you, forgives you, and powerfully protects you. Only God’s Word proclaims those things for someone no matter what the circumstances.  It’s Scripture and Scripture alone.  Next, we saw King David get a bold promise from God, not because he earned it with a good life or deserved it because he was king.  Instead, God gives his undeserved, unearned, unconditional love to people because that’s who he is and what he does.  It’s called grace and it’s God’s free gift of salvation.  It’s grace and grace alone.  Last week, we saw Abraham get a much bigger perspective than he could ever come up with on his own.  God showed him how when he makes a promise he keeps it even if we can’t understand how or when it will work.  God still does that same work through the Word and sacraments when he plants faith in people.  Only trusting the Lord will give you this bigger perspective and usher you to eternal life in heaven.  It’s faith and faith alone.

Notice, that the focus for Daniel, for Martin Luther, and for us on this 500th anniversary is not “I hope God still gets all the glory.”  It’s not “God should get all the glory.”  It’s not “it would be nice for God to get all the glory.”  It’s not even “I hope God gets some of the glory.”  No! the phrase is: Soli Deo Gloria – To God Alone Be Glory.

This is the God who not only shut the mouths of lions for a night but has also silenced the voice of the one who still prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Lutherans loves to sing it this way: “He’s judged the deed is done. One little word can fell him.”  God not only protected Daniel and Luther from physical danger, but he provided the one word that saves us from eternal danger, CHRIST! We have a God who has stepped into history for us.  He has conquered our enemies.  He has removed our fears.  He has provided an eternal home for his people.  And he gets all the glory.

Daniel was willing to do that even though it meant a night with the lions.  And because he did, do you notice what happened?  The great king of Persia, Darius, wrote to all the nations in all the earth a note this note that gives God all the glory: “May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

That lowly German professor was willing to give all the glory to God along.  And because he did, do you notice what happened?  With his nail strokes on the church doors 500 years ago, God shook the foundations of the church with reverberations the whole world has heard ever since.

I guess a good question to ask yourself on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation is: who will do that now?  Who will be like Daniel and Luther?  Who will give God and God alone all the glory? Who will shout his praise and his glory with their words and in their life?  Who will give God alone the glory by saying God still gives, God still works, and God still speaks?  Who will give the glory to God alone by telling their friends, relatives, and acquaintances that we are saved not by what we do, but by his grace alone through faith alone?  Who will give the glory to God alone by sparing no expense to send well-trained pastors and teachers, maybe even your own children, into our communities across America and around the world with the same message that went out from King Darius: The Lord is the living God and he endures forever… He rescues and saves…?  Who will do it?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, and fellow members of the church of the Lutheran Reformation… we will!

To God Alone be Glory! Amen.