THE PERFECT SERMON ABOUT LOVE

Eater 2019

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues n of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, u but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

What sermon do you listen to about love?  See, you don’t have to be in a church to hear a sermon.  There are sermons all over the place every day, because a sermon is simply an address on a theological topic.  And love is most definitely a theological topic; it’s all over the place in the Bible.  It’s also discussed all over the place from all sorts of angles by all sorts of sources.  So what sermon do you listen to?

Do you like the sermons about love from RomComs (romantic comedies), Soap Operas, and other shows and movies? You know, there’s the little quirky one or the one who has some personal baggage and they find each other in odd circumstances where it just might work and you get to see it work out in such an endearing or passionate or convoluted way.

Do you like the sermons about love that you hear in songs? Love Is a Long, Long Road, Don’t Treat Me Like a Stranger, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Something Good Coming, Our Love Was Built to Last, She’s Gonna Listen to Her Heart (Tom Petty tunes) I Can’t Help Falling in Love with you, You’re Still the One, More than Words, Nothing Compares to You, Piece of My Heart, Just Give Me a Reason, Kiss Me, Sex & Candy.  Whether you realize it or not, you are learning a bunch of ideas about love while you drive around or sit your desks.

Do you realize that you are hearing sermons about love from advertisements?  You need this product to be prettier, you need this to win her over, this gift will make her happy, that will be good for your family, and on an on about the things that make love more satisfying, stronger, better or easier.

Besides all these sources, kids are getting sermons about love as they watch their parents, as the walk the hallways at school, on their Snapchat and other social media.  As they get older, they also to get these sermons in the locker room, at work, on campus, at parties.

So many sermons about love saying love is about passion and keeping the flame alive.  Sermons teaching that love is about laughter and fun.  Sermons promoting love is all about what matters to you and gives you a special feeling.  Sermons describing love a deep personal connection that you can fall into or be struck with it at first sight.  Sermons saying that love and sex don’t need to be connected anymore.  Sex should be for whoever whenever, because it’s just a bodily need for some people.  And on and on…

There are so many sermons about love that really don’t get to the heart of the issue at all.  God doesn’t want you to learn about a love that only goes skin deep.  He wants you to know that love takes everything you are, body, mind, and soul.  He wants you to know that love cannot flame out because it’s not about passion and feelings.  He wants you to know that love does not set conditions; it has no fine print.  He wants you to know about love from the one who defines it (1 John 2).  He wants you to know about love that is not based on you – where you come from, what you do, how you look – but comes from him, based on who he is and what he does.  He wants you to know that his love for you is also his love for others.

And so, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write this sermon on love in 1 Corinthians 13.  This is the sermon we need.  This is the sermon that perfectly reveals God’s love for us and at the same time perfectly teaches us what his love will do through us for others.

Paul starts out with the first 3 verses describing great things like speaking in different languages or even speaking in spiritual, angelic tongues, having the give of prophecy, being able to move mountains with his faith in God’s power, having a generosity that is boundless, and being able to suffer through the most difficult hardships.  Any one of those things would be a great blessing from God, not just useful for me but also very helpful to others around me.  But having those abilities without love is just plain old annoying or worse.

Do you know the clash of cymbals?  My parents do.  I was in sixth grade when I bought a drum set, and not the electric kind that you plug in and can hear only if you have the headphones on.  I bought the real kind.  Boy, did I want to practice the drums, every day, in fact.  I would practice beats and fills.  I would play along with CDs and the radio.  And it was for the whole house and probably neighborhood to hear.  I cannot comprehend how my family put up with it.  It’s not like I had them in a padded room with a door.  They were in the basement family room to fill the whole house with their beautiful banging and clashing.  I guess they must have really loved me to endure that.

If you don’t fill your words and actions with the love that comes from God, then all those amazing blessings Paul mentions are about as good as a 6th grader trying to learn the drums in your home.  It’s just a whole lot of banging and clanging.  It’s annoying and irritating.

Why would God be so blunt?  Why would he say that really beneficial blessings like speaking in languages, prophecy, faith that can move mountains, cheerful generosity, and patient endurance are annoying and of no real purpose?  Because without God’s kind of love, these gifts don’t serve others the way God serves us. They are not being used for God’s glory and his purpose but are just self-promoting and self-gratifying.  And God’s love just doesn’t do that.  The goal of faith, hope and love is not to puff you up, earn you recognition and glory, make you feel better.  The goal of faith, hope, and love is to serve God and raise others up, give others encouragements, make others better.

See, love and selfishness do not go together.  Love never asks the question, “What can I get out of this?”  Love never says, “I need it now, ” or “It’s my way or the highway.”  Love is not interested in putting others down while you elevate yourself.  Love cannot be in the same realm as anything that would go against God’s Word.

Instead, here is the perfect sermon about love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I think when I read these words of God: “I am a failure.  I can’t do that.  Maybe I can do it for about 15 minutes or an hour, but all day every day for everyone I come into contact with, because God says love your neighbor.  I am a total loser.”  God says this is the sermon you need on love.  Not any of those movies or songs.  And I think, “If this is the kind of love that needs to be a part of my life as a child of God, then I’m in big trouble.”

Can you remember a time when you weren’t patient?  It was probably this morning or right now.  How about kind?  Again, it already happened today.  Envious, boastful, proud?  Check, check, and check.  Go on down the list and all I see is things that I fail to do for people, even those in my own home.

But remember this sermon is from God.  He wrote it, because he knows this kind of love very well.  It’s not that he sees it so regularly in our lives, but he knows it so well because this is the kind of love that he has for you. No conditions need to be met.  No levels have to be reached.  No works must be done.  No prayers must be said.  This is the love that is at the heart of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This is the love that Jesus displayed as he lived and died for you.  This is the love that brought him back from the dead so that you and I would have an eternal home with him in heaven.  This is the love that he continues to shower on us every single day.

We claim to be too busy for a lot of things, and Jesus is patient.  We are unpleasant, and Jesus is kind.  We are arrogant, and Jesus is humble.  We are looking to raise ourselves up and lower others, Jesus is looking for ways to spiritually lift us up so that we can put others first.  We get angry and hold grudges, and Jesus peacefully forgives and forgets.  We find delight in our pet sins, and even though it stings, Jesus compassionately gives us the truth of law and gospel, sin and grace.  We don’t fight the good fight against the devil and all his evil as we should, so Jesus fought him for us and won.  He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Jesus never fails.

My brothers and sisters, here is the perfect sermon on love: Jesus. Period.

If you are wondering how in the world this kind of love can come out of you and show itself not just to those dear to you but to all, I want you to think of where Jesus is right now.  He’s not being selfish, doing something that only benefits him.  He’s not off somewhere else, neglecting us.  He’s not boiling over about all of our loveless hearts. He’s right here speaking through this word of God.  He’s right here a little later in his body and blood.  He’s right here and in each one of us through faith that he put there in baptism.

How could this kind of love ever show up in your life is maybe not the right question.  The question is where else could it be?  How could this love of God not be in your life?  See, Jesus put it right there in your heart.  Jesus keeps it there by the power of the Spirit working through his Word and Sacraments.  Jesus keeps his promise to never leave you nor forsake you.  Jesus keeps his promise to never fail.  He keeps his love for you and in you so that it will go to work through you.

Here is not a love that selfishly desires what I want but a love that selflessly serves what others need.  Here is not a love that ignores sin but a love that confesses it, forgives it, and leaves it.  Here is not a love that sets conditions but a love that gives joyously and eagerly to all.  Here is not a love that gives up but a love that can do nothing but hope and persevere.  This love you have been given by God and this love you give others from God.

I could go on and on and on, but God’s perfect sermon on love says it all so simply and in just 13 verses.   So maybe just one thing remains… the Amen.

PRAISE FOREVER AND EVER

Eater 2019

Revelation 5:11-14
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

 

(This was a day of confirmation, as you will note throughout the sermon)

Not all of you here today know Jordan, but you should because she is the best.  Isn’t that right, Jordan? You’re so great at everything.  You did such a good job on Thursday night at Examination.  Even though you were nervous, you answered questions about the Bible and Jesus very well.  Even though a lot of people might consider what you said to be foolishness and nonsense, even though some people would make fun of you for studying the Bible and being here today, and even though God says being a Christian is not and never will be easy, you are here.  And that’s awesome.  And do you know what else is awesome? You’ve been here a lot at church.  You have been a part of the Children’s Christmas service a bunch of times, reciting, reading, and singing.  You’ve been at Sunday School, sometimes even when you were tired or under the weather, but you still came.  Jordan, you’ve made it this far, and we are all so happy for you.  We can’t wait for the service to be over so we can all get pictures with you and eat cupcakes and celebrate because, Jordan, you deserve it.  Is this getting awkward for you, yet?

These are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if Confirmation is your graduation from the Bible.  These are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if Confirmation is all about what you have done to get here.  Jordan, these are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if you are just that amazing.  Then, the theme for today should really be Jordan’s life is our praise.

But that’s not the theme for worship today.  You and I and all of us are not here because this is all about Jordan.  This is not your graduation.  And quite frankly, Jordan, you don’t deserve all sorts of praise today.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, you didn’t get every answer right and you didn’t learn all of your memory passages perfectly.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, there was some daydreaming, there were sometimes when I caught you not paying attention because you were finishing up some French fries from Wendy’s, drinking some Dr. Pepper, or talking with your neighbor.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, you didn’t have 100% attendance.  You weren’t at every Sunday School class.  You missed church every once in a while.  You weren’t always excited and happy about being up front for the Children’s Christmas services.

But, Jordan, you are not alone in that.  If we brought up every person here today and put them in the front row and started talking about them, we could say a lot of nice things.  But, Jordan, you know what else we would have to say about each and every person here?  Just like you, they have not been perfect.  In fact, all of you have been a whole lot less than perfect.  Each and every one of you have failed to live up to God’s standard.  You have failed to love God fully and completely.  You have failed to use his name properly.  You have failed to read and study God’s Word and worship like he wants you to. You have failed to love others in the same way that you are willing to take care of yourself. You have failed to respect and honor your parents and all those in authority.  You have failed to keep hatred, lust, gossip, jealousy, out of your heart and mind.  You have failed to carry out the actions that are pleasing to God and refrain from those that are displeasing to him.

That means the theme today cannot be Bill’s life or Val’s life, our praise.  Not Scott, not Carol, not Linda, not Aaron, not Alice, not Courtney,  not Jerry, not Amy, not Jim, not Tim, not Lynn, not Gary, not Perry, not Sherry, not Terry, not Barry.  Not one of you can put your name in that spot on the front of the worship folder and think that praise should be yours.

I forgot another name.  The theme today is not Tom’s life, our praise.  Yes, the pastor is not above God’s law.  Yes, this pastor is not above anyone here, because I have failed too many times to count.  Every single thing that God points his finger at you about, he points his finger at me.  Therefore, this church is not about me.  This worship service, this sermon, is not about me.  If that were the case, we would be in deep trouble.  Because then this church, this worship service, this sermon would be about a sinful man, and I cannot save a single person, not even myself.

But Jordan, you know all about that, don’t you?  You know what’s wrong with you, and with me, and the whole world. God’s Word has taught you the law that shows your sins.  And God has taught you that you can’t change your position.  You can’t change your sins. God has taught you that you cannot by your own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to his side.  God has taught you that there is no way that you can earn God’s love and buy your way into heaven.

So, there has to be someone else who does is perfectly for you.  There has to be someone who can rescues you and me and the world.  There has to be someone who can remove our sins from our record.  There has to be someone who loves us enough to take our punishment for sin, because that’s the only way that you and I can be saved.  There has to be someone who we can praise for giving us the indescribable gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  There has to be someone who receives louds songs of joy and gladness from people all over the world and even from the holy angels because of what he did.

Jordan, by God’s grace with the power of his Word, he has taught you that there is:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise… To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

You know, it’s often a sad thing when someone close to you dies.  One way people try to cope with loss is to talk about the good times, right? You remember and talk about all the fun and all the positives.  But you can’t do that forever and ever.  You talk about them for a few days before and after the funeral.  You have fond memories for a while but not forever and ever.  Because eventually your memories fade.

My first grandparent died when I was a senior in high school.  Grandpa Tessmer was a dairy farmer.  I still have some memories, but I can’t remember everything.  And it will only get less and less as time passes and I get older.  Then, I will die and so will all the other people who knew him.  And so in less than 100 years no one will remember Glenard Tessmer.  No more fun stories, no more praise, no more honor.  Nothing.  The same thing will happen to me and to you, Jordan.

But for people who make huge sacrifices, for people who win huge victories, for people who do things that are so amazing, they do get remembered in history books, in museums, in schools, online, and stuff like that.  But those people do not get to personally receive the praise and honor and glory.  They are dead.

This Lamb we are talking about is completely different.  This Lamb who was slain can actually still receive and thanks and praise and honor and glory, because even after he was killed for us, even after he died in our place, even after he took the punishment that we deserve, even after he sacrificed himself to save us, he did not stay dead.  No, the tomb could not hold Jesus.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

The Lamb of God who died for your sins and mine and the sins of the whole world, he came back for us.  Jesus came back from the dead to save us not just from sins, but also to save us from death and hell.  He came back from the dead so that we could live with him forever.

And guess what we will be doing for the one who saved us from sin, death, and hell?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who destroyed the power of the devil for us?  Guess what we will be doing in the perfect paradise that was purchased for us by Jesus and freely given to us in the gospel?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who sits on the throne of heaven and loves us from all eternity?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who made us and everything in this world and then made us his very own children through baptism?  Guess what we will be doing?

That’s right!  We will be giving him all the praise and honor and glory.  We will be worshipping him for all the things he has done to save us.

But we don’t have to wait to do that, do we?  Jordan, that’s why you are here.  Because God has changed your life.  He has given you a place in his family.  He has promised to love you and take care of you and protect you and uphold you and guide you and bless you.  And so, we get to say thanks right now.  Sinners that we are, through faith in Jesus, we get to live as God’s children right now.  We get to worship him right now.  We get to give him praise right now.  We get to live for him right now.

Jordan, that isn’t going to stop after today, is it?  Jesus is still going to be worthy of our thanks and praise, because he conquered death for us and purchased heaven for us.  It isn’t going to stop when you get to high school, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you go off to college somewhere, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you get married, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you have kids of your own, is it?  I know you think that’s crazy, but I was in your seat just 20 years ago.  Life goes by pretty quickly!  But it doesn’t matter what happens to us, because Jesus will always be the one who loves us, saves us from our sins, removes the sting of death, and brings us home to heaven.  Jesus is the one who does everything for us.

And so, today on your confirmation day, Jordan, it’s a good day to praise the Lord.  And it will be a good day tomorrow, and next Sunday, and a year from now, and 10 years from now, and 100 years from now, and forever and ever in heaven.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Amen.

 

 

PEACE BE WITH YOU

Eater 2019

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe x that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

The disciples are locked up together that first Easter evening, minus Thomas who was MIA.  We probably can’t even begin to grasp the circumstances they find themselves in while they just stand there in a stupor.  God’s Son, the Messiah, the Promised One, the King of heaven and earth, the Lord Almighty, their teacher and friend is dead, but maybe not anymore.  What about the women?  What about Peter’s story of seeing Jesus?  What about God’s kingdom?  What about all of Jesus’ followers? What about…?  There is so much distracting them.

I know what that’s like, don’t you? My youngest, Jet, spiked a fever and vomited all over me twice, and then later that evening pretended it never happened, returning back to his normal antics and smiley self. That was Easter Sunday in the later afternoon. The rest of this past week was kind of a blur, busy with visits and counseling.  I also had to prepare this service, the sermon, and the congregational meeting after church today.  As the worship coordinator for our Dakota-Montana district with our annual spring pastors’ conference in Rapid City this week, I have had to plan and put together a worship service, five devotions, and a report for all the pastors.  I also should be practicing guitar more for a couple of the songs we are singing.

Now, I’m not bringing up this stuff because the sermon is a good time to report these kinds of things.  I’m not at all complaining about any of these things. I bring them up because as a sinful human being sometimes the busier you are the more distracted you become.  All those kinds of things I described can easily start to take the focus off of where it should be: on the Savior, Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and hell on Easter.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been distracted from him in various ways, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are afraid and worried.  What is life supposed to be like without Jesus? What are the religious leaders planning for them, if they found a way to get rid of Jesus?  Why would the soldiers and guards treat them any different than Jesus?    They thought they had more time. There is so much fear and worry.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  You have no idea what the future holds.  You have no  idea what the doctor is going to say.  You have no idea what’s going to happen at work.  You have no idea what’s in store for you kids.  You have no idea what retirement will bring.  You have no idea how to get the finances figured out.  You have no idea about much at all.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been afraid and worried, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are burdened with guilt and shame.  The last memory most of them have is running away from Jesus, exactly what he had warned them about.  Peter remembers his demonstrative denials.  John remembers seeing him hang there, dying.  All they can think about is their sin and how it’s all inexcusable.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  I have gone running the wrong direction into sin before, even though God makes it quite clear not to. I have had my lackluster, lazy moments.  I have been greedy.  I have been selfish.  I have been unwilling to listen and help.  I have done all of the evil.  I have no excuses.  And I have heard Satan’s taunts, “God could never love a sinner like you.”

To his disciples and to all of us who have been burdened by our guilt and crushed by our shame, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are together in a locked room, but they have never been more alone, wayward, and lost.  Literally, Thomas is off on his own.  He can’t even be with his brothers.  Maybe he thinks he’s tough enough.  Maybe alone time is his coping mechanism.  Maybe he is giving up.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  “I don’t need the encouragement of others.  I don’t want to bother someone else with my problems.  I don’t think anyone should know what I’m doing. I don’t want to hear that what I’m doing might not be good for me spiritually. I don’t need them; they just drag me down all the time.  I don’t need worship or Bible study, I can read the Bible on my own, if I could remember where it is.”  The “I’s” just keep coming, and you are more alone than ever.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been lost and alone, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Thomas hears the most amazing news that you could ever give someone: CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN, INDEED! But Thomas is not rejoicing until his conditions are met first.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  Have you ever made a list of demands that Jesus has to meet so that you will follow him, trust him, and worship him more?  You turn him into the snack machine where you punch in some good works here, some prayers there, some time for serving here, some offerings there, and you expect God to dispense everything according to each and every one of your conditions.  Somehow we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can make Jesus into whatever fits our mold.

To his disciple Thomas and to all of us who have selfishly made conditions and demands of God, Jesus comes back again and says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are distracted, “Why are you letting those distractions take control of your life?  Stop looking at so much of that other earthly stuff.  You better get with the program. Pay attention.”

There’s none of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are afraid and worried, “Why are you so scared?  What could possible cause you to hide?  Stop worrying so much about your life.  Don’t you know that I have got everything under control?  Stop trying to figure everything out and trust me.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are guilty and ashamed, “What have you done?  How could you?  Don’t you know what I have said about that?  Or have you been too busy to care about what I say?  I think you should sit and think about what you’ve done.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are alone and wandering, “Where have you been?  Do you really think you can achieve what you want on your own?  What, you go through a little strife and a little hurt, and you just take off?  Is that really what you think will help the situation?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are attaching all sorts of clauses and conditions on God, “What is this, a contract negotiation?  You’ve got this long list of demands and if any of these things don’t go your way, you are going to walk to the next church or the next religion.  Is that how this works?  I am the one who has to change my will so that you can feel better about life?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Do you know why Jesus showed up for his disciples that first Easter evening and again a week later to include Thomas?

CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

It is his life, his death, his resurrection that conquers our sin, conquers death, and conquers hell.  It is his victory that won peace not for him, not for angels, but for us.  And so the Savior, who went to hell and back for us, wants us to have peace, not distraction and stress, not fear and worries, not guilt and shame, not selfish wandering, not unrealistic conditions for an easy life.  Jesus wants us to have peace, eternally with him in heaven.

A pep talk wouldn’t do that for us.  A chart of chores to organize everything for us wouldn’t make it work.  A long list of dos and don’ts could not accomplish peace.  Those things would only give us more unrest, more uncertainty, more fear, more guilt, more attempted bargains with God, more arrogance and pride or depression depending on how you look at yourself.  They would only lead us to eternal punishment in hell, not peace with God.   The only way for us to have eternal peace was for him to purchase it perfectly and completely and then provide it freely.  The only way for us to have peace, was for Jesus to just show up as the victorious, risen-from-the-dead Savior and give it.

And that’s exactly what he does.  For the cowering cowards looked in a room, he shows up and the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”  For the condition-attaching doubter, he shows up and again the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”

And there’s one more thing.  For people who need forgiveness, the removal of sin and guilt, the assurance  of God’s unconditional love and undeserved grace, the certainty that peace from God is ours based on what Jesus has done, Jesus shows up alive and these are the words from his mouth: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Jesus takes these men and removes their distractions, their fears, their guilt, their loneliness, their list of demands.  He takes all that away with his victory over death.  And then, he replaces it with peace.  And because the peace of a risen Savior is not meant to help one or ten or eleven, but because it is for the entire world, Jesus gives them the power of the Spirit, the call to go, and the authority to forgive.

Jesus would not do this any of this – he wouldn’t give peace, he wouldn’t bestow the Spirit, he wouldn’t send them out, he wouldn’t give them authority to forgive – if the work he was sent to do were not already completely finished.  There would be no way that the disciples could proclaim forgiveness of sins, if Jesus had not accomplished it for us.

If I sent you out this afternoon to cure people of cancer, could you do it? No.  That’s nonsense.  But let’s say someone smarter than us had found a cure, had put that cure in a pill, had packaged it in bottles, and then gave one of those bottles to you.  Now, I say to you, “I want you to visit every cancer patient you know and every hospital in the area and I want you to cure people of cancer.”  Could you do it?  Of course you could!  And I think you’d probably do it earnestly and joyfully.  The fact that you were giving it out was proof that someone had accomplished the cure.

Jesus gave his disciples peace, because he accomplished it. Jesus gave the cure for sin to his disciples because he had accomplished it.  And Jesus gives us the very same things to us.  In doing so it proves that Jesus did it all, everything is accomplished for us.  Everything he gave the disciples; he gives to us. We have peace with God. We have forgiveness.  We have the Spirit.  We have God’s authority.

This is all proof where we stand with God.  He doesn’t let your distractions deter him.  He does not let your fears and worry stop him.  He does not allow your guilt and shame to change what he does for you.  He does not leave you alone and wandering.  He does not permit your conditions to prevent him from being your God and Savior.  Instead, the risen Savior gives you everything he has accomplished by his death and resurrection.

There’s one thing he wants you to know: Peace be with you.  Amen.

FROM GOSPEL MISSION TO GLORIOUS VISION

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Revelation 7:9-17

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

 

 

Last week was a great reminder of the power God has.  God can use the foolish things of this world.  God can use the weak things of this world.  God can use the lowly things of this world.  He can use humans to accomplish the most death-defying feat.   What I mean by that is God can use the mouths and the works of sinful humans beings to get the gospel message out into the world to save people from death and hell.

Remember how he did that with a simple German theology professor?  That kind of person should not be such a big deal, and yet some authors and historians rank Martin Luther in the top 10 (some as high as 3) of the most influential people in the entire world.  But it’s not like there was something so special about a law student turned monk.  There was nothing that significant about his upbringing or devotion to religion that would make the rest of the world take note.  There was nothing amazing about how he became a professor of little Wittenberg University and then a Doctor of Theology.  There have been tons of professors and doctorates through the centuries that have had very little impact on the world.  There wasn’t much about this man, Martin Luther, that made him special.

The single thing that made Martin Luther so influential in world history is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  See the gospel made him ask questions of the deceptive church leaders, write little pamphlets and papers about the problems he noticed, stand up to the authorities, live as an outlaw, translate the Bible into German, use the new technology of the printing press, advocate for the peasants and children, write hymns and catechisms, and leave a legacy that the world simply cannot ignore. The gospel did it all.  The gospel has that kind of power.

Do you know why the gospel can have such an impact?  Do you know why the gospel can turn lowly good-for-nothings, fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, monks, professors into names that are known throughout the world?  It’s because the gospel saves people.

That’s not a cheap advertisement.  Without the gospel the only reality in the world is death and hell.  Without the gospel every single person is doomed to be destroyed by the devil and his evil for eternity.  Without the gospel the only thing you would know is sin.  Without the gospel everyone is dark, lost, and alone forever.  Without the gospel this world is all you have – this world with its polarizing politics, its destruction and devastation, its rape and murder, its greed and lust, its selfishness and pride, its racism and hatred, the list goes on.  That’s all you have.  Sure, there are some sunny days and happy times, but it would all be for nothing.  You live.  You die.  It means nothing.  Your existence really has no value to anyone.  You are pointless.  That’s life without the gospel.  There is no reason for anything and there is no love for anything, except yourself.

Think of it.  You might say, “I could still have my spouse, my kids, my parents, my friends.”  Without the gospel those relationships would only mean something because of what they do for you.  You would enjoy having parents who didn’t leave you at the hospital.  That’s nice for you.  You would enjoy having siblings because then you’re not bored at home with mom and dad, then you can have someone to play pranks on and blame when stuff gets broken, you would have people who could help you as a kid.  It’s good for you.  You would have friends who can do things for you like help on homework, be the other kids on your team, all that kind of stuff.  And that is nice for you to have.  You would maybe have your own spouse of maybe just a live in, because who wants that kind of commitment anymore.  You could have a person satisfy your desires and appetite for a while hopefully.  They could help you with a lot of things around the house and for life.  They could even help you with kids.  And you would want kids to increase your happiness and give you someone to have control over and mold.  Oh!  It’s so sad to look at life without the gospel of Jesus.  So often that is exactly what we are guilty of because we are only looking at ourselves.  Our vision is so narrow and it’s so utterly pointless.

But in the gospel, you have life.  You have meaning.  You have a purpose.  You have a family.  You have a home.  You have it forever.  Because in the gospel you have a God who is not an overlord who rules you like measly subjects or a company owner who wants you to work for him. The second reading says you have a God who wants to love you like children.  He wants to be your Father.

God did everything to make that real for you.  The gospel says that he planned a way to make sinners into his children.  Jesus came to take your sins from you.  You didn’t give them up, he took them from you and removed them from your life when he died in your place. Jesus exchanged his perfection for our sinfulness, his righteousness for our guilt.  He took the punishment that we deserve and gives us a life that is worth more than anything this world could give.  He came back from the dead so that this life you have as a child of God would not just be for years on earth, but for eons upon eons for eternity in heaven.  That is how much God loves you.  That is how much the gospel accomplishes for you.

It turns you from sinners into saints.  Yes, that is what you are.  Like I said at the introduction to this festival day, a saint is not someone who lived a special life or made a specific sacrifice or something that we should remember.  A saint is not someone who went to heaven with the job that they would someone stand in for God every once in a while.   Why would you want a dead person to help you, when you can have the Lord of heaven, the Creator of all things, the Rock of our salvation, the Spirit who set you apart and called you by name help you and care for you?  Can a dead person even do anything after they are dead?  No, not at all.  But God lives.  Jesus lives.  And because he does when God looks at his children he does not see the sin.  He sees the holiness of his Son.  He sees his perfect, pure child.  He sees a saint.

When he looks at all of us together he sees the communion of saints.  Yeah, when we say those words in the creeds we aren’t just talking about believers who have died already.  We’re proclaiming that we believe God can turn us sinners into his holy people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and faith in him alone.

That is the gospel.  And we want the gospel to do that for more people.  We want more and more people to know that life is not what I make of it.  Life is what Jesus has made it for me.  That gospel mission is what changed the world after Jesus ascended into heaven.  Christianity spread all over the world.  That gospel mission is what changed the world again when the pure light of the gospel was hidden by an oppressive church.  The voice of the midair angel has never stopped, and it won’t now.  That’s God’s promise.

And you would think that life for people with this gospel mission, for people who believe in Jesus, for the saints of God, you would think that life would be easier for us.  That’s just not a promise God has ever made, that your life on earth is going to be the best.  The Gospel reading is where Jesus says the opposite.  Your life on earth won’t be the best, but it will be blessed when you are poor in spirit, when you mourn, when you are meek, when you are merciful, when you are pure, and when you are persecuted for your faith in him.  All of those things are a part of life now, to point the saints of God to the home that really matters.

To so many this doesn’t seem worth it.  To so many fixing the brokenness of this life and trying to get my life on earth better is all that matters.  Is that you?  Do you yearn for better days on earth?  Then your vision is too narrow.  The devil is setting you up for failure, for eternal failure.  See, in the gospel, God promises something much better than earthly fixes and pleasures.  The gospel mission gives a vision like the one John sees.

READ v9-17

To people who have been changed by the gospel, to saints who are looking for something better than this world, God gives us a glorious vision of what victory really looks like.  There is a time and a place God has set for all his saints to enjoy this glory, peace, joy, and victory.  We don’t know when our names are going to be called, but when they are we will be taken out of this world.

I just love hearing the verse where God says the ones in white, his saints, are all those who have come out of the great tribulation.  That’s as good as this world gets for believers.  It’s a tribulation.  It’s a place where too often we complain about our homes or hungers, about the weather, about work, about failed relationships.  It’s a place where we cry and weep.  It’s a place that is broken and dark with sin.

But we have the gospel of Jesus.  We have the blood of the Lamb who makes us clean in God’s eyes.  We have the new eyes of saints who look at this world, not as home but as the journey there.  And along the way, God gives us the good news of Jesus so that can help others from every nation, tribe, people and language with their broken lives as well.

And here’s his promise for you: the gospel that we have as his saints now on earth will always lead to this glorious vision of heaven and saints who are with the Lord forever.  Amen.

COMING ALIVE

5.20.18 Pentecost B

 

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

 

Do you know what the Spirit can do?  Have you seen it?  Well, I have, and let me tell you the story.

I was called to be God’s spokesman to his people, Israel.  The hard part of that was not listening to God.  As astounding as his visions were, he was very clear on what I needed to say and write.  The hard part was the people.  You’d think that people who had God’s promises would listen to his Word.  But that’s the thing about people – it doesn’t matter if you’re a descendant of Abraham or if you are foreigner, a king or a slave – we struggle to listen to God’s words the way he wants us to.

After receiving the call from the Lord, he wanted me to say some things to get their attention.  They needed to realize that what was happening to them was because they had neglected God.  And when that happens that means sin is winning in your life.  When sin is winning in your life, spiritual death is not far behind.

See, God wants his people to be different.  When he spoke with them at Mt. Sinai and gave them his 10 Commandments, the arrangement was that they would obey everything.  Well, Israel was kind of up and down on that.  After they arrived in the Promised Land was a good time, but then they got lazy.  Every so often God would send judges to help them get back on track, but the message never sunk in.  Then came the kings.  David was a good one, his son, Solomon, was ok, but only 7 or 8 others encouraged the people to follow God and serve him alone.

To help the people see their sinful ways and the destruction that sin causes, God called prophets, like me, to preach.  I was in Babylon at the time.  Why Babylon, you ask?  That was the punishment God forewarned.  The people didn’t get the hint that sin is not ok with God, so God sent Babylon to conquer us.  Over about a 10 year period, we were exiled to Babylon.  Everything back home, including God’s Holy Temple, was completely destroyed.

I don’t know if you can imagine how downcast and depressed everyone was.  God had told them in the past what their sins would cause, but that didn’t change a thing, so God had to bring down judgment on His own people.  Even in Babylon, I was given the task to point out their wickedness and God’s disappointment.

After years of visions and proclamations of death and doom, came the day when God brought me to that valley of dry bones.  The closest thing you could compare it to here in America would be Death Valley, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  All around I looked, back and forth I went, and all I saw was death, an utterly lifeless landscape.  It was not an enjoyable place to be.

That is the place where God had a question for me.  “Son of man…” he liked to call me ‘son of man’ because I am just a regular guy and he was not… “Son of Man, can these bones live”?

What would you say? Do you think life could come from a valley of death?  After what had happened with Israel, I had my doubts.  Israel had proven what human people are really like.  People don’t blaze a path to life but a something else, something worse, something deathly.

Israel said they were going to be faithful to God alone.  They said they didn’t want to associate with other sinful and pagan nations and get themselves into trouble.  They said they would remember God’s commandments and his promises.  They said a lot of things.

What really happened?  Their lies lead to idolatry.  When God’s promises were taking too long to come true they found other religions and gods that looked more sensible and pleasurable.  All the things that God had said and recorded for his people took a donkey ride into the desert.  It is tragic to even talk about it.  People, by nature, do not want any part with God.

Do you know anyone like that?  Do you know people who say they will serve God?  Do you know people who promise they won’t follow the wrong crowd?  Do you know some who say they will remember God’s promises, but personal experiences and preferences seem to be good excuses to neglect what God says?  I’m sure you do.  I’m sure you can find someone like that in your neighborhood or your pool of friends.  But I know for a fact you can see someone like that if you take a good look at your own heart.

People haven’t changed much over the last few millennia since I was in Babylon.  The lying still leads to idolatry.  Patience with God’s promises wears thin, so other things can take his place and priority.  Maybe you don’t have wooden gods of Asherah and Baal, but that was not Israel’s only problem.  They got too wrapped up in themselves to pay attention to God’s Word.   And when you put yourself as the be all and end all, don’t be surprised if it all ends wrong.

Do you know what lying and idolatry leads to?  Thinking of my day out in the valley of dry bones makes me remember what the Apostle Paul wrote long after I was gone, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” For Israel, for you and me, and for all the world, those dry bones are about as good as we get.

“Can these bones live?” Only one person knew the answer to that question, so I said, “O Lord GOD, You alone know.” It was at that point that I thought he would give me a clear, yes or no.  But instead, he told me to talk to the bones as if they could hear me.  Just talk!  That was it.

The Lord didn’t tell me to think outside of the box to try or find some new fresh way to connect to those dead bones.  He didn’t tell me about any kind of gadgets and ideas that might work.  He didn’t tell me about computers.  He didn’t say that certain song styles or instruments would raise those bones to life.  He never mentioned a specific style of preaching that would be better than another.  He didn’t tell me about pulpits or pews.  Intrestingly, he also didn’t talk about traditions.  He didn’t say anything about the way it always was.  He didn’t say that the same way is the best way.  He didn’t say stubborn attitudes and unchanging ideas will cause nasty, dried up bones to live.

None of the things that people argue about would do anything for those bones.  I am not downplaying what advancements and blessings can do.  But I know for a fact that anything other than the Word of the Almighty God cannot bring life to a place of death.  Nothing but the Word of God can turn a heart of cold stone, to a heart of life….not even a little bit.  The only thing that causes life is God’s Word.  I was there to witness it.

He told me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” I did what God told me to do and the results were overwhelming.  Simply put, God’s Word worked.  He’s got the power.  He’s got the Word.  And it works. The bones started flying around. And the noise – millions of bones coming together – was more than anything your kids could produce with their toys.

After all the bones came together, the tendons, guts, muscles, and layers of skin formed around each skeleton.  It was vastly different from when I first arrived at the valley.  Some might say that everything was different, but really it was still the same.  The bones now were perfectly in place with all that is needed for life, but the bodies still lay there, motionless.  They were still just as dead as before.

God had done the amazing work, but there was one thing missing.  The Lord gave me more of his words to speak.  “Come from the four winds, o breath, and breathe into these slain, that they might live.”  The breath was not normal.  In Hebrew, that’s the language that I spoke back then and the one I used to write my book, “breath” is the same word as “spirit.” So, when God told me to call the breath, it was his way of telling me to call for the Holy Spirit.

What I had seen in the valley was death, but with God’s Word and the work of the Spirit, I saw death coming alive.  The multitude of dry bones came together perfectly.  The flesh wrapped them perfectly. The breath came and filled them perfectly. Where death was, God made life.  This is all God’s handiwork, and it is always his handiwork when death turns to life.

There they stood an army to serve its source of life.  God had created a massive group.  When I had seen armies in the past they had a mission to conquer or defend.  This army was no different.  The Lord did this to show me and all of Israel what he can accomplish with his Spirit.  He can make life.  He can make that life achieve his purpose, just as he said.

What I am looking at right now, is not much different than what I saw in that valley.  God has worked another miracle.  I am not staring at random bones.  I am not staring at death, but life.  This is not something you did.  This is the power of God.  The same power that raised Jesus from death to life continues to work today. Through his Word and Spirit, God brings life.

The Holy Spirit came into you the same way I saw him go into the bodies in the valley.  At your baptism, death was swallowed up in victory.  The Spirit planted the life-giving gospel message of free forgiveness through Jesus Christ in you.  Through the powerful Word of God, he keeps faith living and active.  You aren’t a pile of bones.  You aren’t lifeless corpses.  You are the same army that I saw thousands of years ago standing ready to serve your Creator and your life-giver.

This experience in the valley of dry bones wasn’t just for me.  I had to tell all of those people who were in exile with me.  I had to tell them God’s life-giving message.  But, if you are like the house of Israel, then you also might find yourself focusing on the negative side of things.  They said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  In exile, there wasn’t a lot to be positive about.  They had received a just judgment from God.  They didn’t see the sun rising on a new day.

If you ever feel yourself swamped in pessimism, then listen again to what God told Israel because he says that to you, too.  “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.”  

Do you know what God did to make this come true? He sent his own Son, Jesus, to conquer the grave, not just for himself, but for all who believe in him. With Jesus’ resurrection, God assures us all that what He told me in the valley is true.  God will open graves and restore life again.

Today is a special festival for you to thank God for life.  When I arrived in the valley, I didn’t see much hope.  Generations after I had gone, it didn’t look like there was much hope for the fledgling church led by the disciples.   But, today there is a different tone.  You are celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I was blessed to see firsthand that death comes alive through the Word of God. Generations later, The Spirit brought the same kind of life through the message of Jesus that Peter and the disciples preached.  3000 joined their numbers during that Pentecost celebration.

The promise God gave me in the valley is still life-giving promise for you. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live. The Holy Spirit has not quit yet.  Wherever God’s Word is, there the Spirit will be with his heavenly breath to bring life.  Amen.

YOUR REAL TEST IS JUST BEGINNING

5.6.18 Easter 6B Confirmation

1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

 

Jakob and Hunter, I bet you’re glad to finally be here. You’ve been studying God’s Word with me for two years, and with your parents and Sunday School teachers for a lot longer than that. Then, this past Thursday you had the Examination…ation…ation…ation. You sat in front of your family and some members of the church and faced a thorough body of questions. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here, but I saw it on FaceTime while I sat over in the parsonage basement. I told you before and Pastor Wolfe said it again Thursday night that it wasn’t a test, but I know it felt like it. You were still up front, and you still had to answer questions all on your own. I’m happy to say you both did well. I know how much effort and interest you put into your studies. And everyone there Thursday found out how much study you put into your examination. Hours and hours, right?  That’s good.

So now, maybe the last thing you want to hear this morning is that your real test is just beginningYou see, there’s a growing thought in Christianity that confirmation is maybe not the best thing for young people. This whole day looks a lot like the end of something, doesn’t it? You’re done studying! You’ve accomplished something. We put you in robes, we have a reception.  Your family throws you a party where you get cards, money, and presents.  I remember it well.

But confirmation is NOT a graduation. Confirmation prepares you for the testing that you have to face and have to do for the rest of your life. For far too many people, the day you are now having is the height of their faith and knowledge of God’s grace. They worked their way up to this day, with studying, memorizing, praying, worshiping, learning…  And then they stopped. They stopped reading God’s Word. They stopped gathering together for Bible study, and then all too often, even stopped coming to worship.  And do you know what happens to your faith when it isn’t fed by God’s Word?  (whistling sound down) Statistics tell us that about 4 out of 10 people confirmed in 8th grade are no longer attending church by the end of high school.

I don’t want that to happen.  Your brothers and sisters in this family of God don’t want that to happen.  God certainly doesn’t want to see his young children turn from their loving eternal Father.  That’s why I think this section from 1 John is great for you and all of us today. The Apostle John tells Christians that our whole life is one of testing.  It’s not like God has his red pen out, watching and waiting to whip another check mark.  But there are certainly many opportunities in our life of faith to be tested.  It’s good.  It helps us grow.  Like lifting weights, it’s hard but it makes your faith stronger.

What John is talking about here is that as we live in faith we also need to test for something, the truth. We need to test the voices that we listen to. Are they speaking from God or from God’s enemies? When our testing shows that we have found a pastor or a church that speaks the truth, then we will listen gladly and faithfully to the Lord. Here is how John puts it: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

The whole concept of “fake news” has been in the headlines for the past two years, but fake news is nothing new. Even in the church, false teachers have been around as long as there have been teachers of God’s truth. In the time the Apostle John wrote these words, fifty or so years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the “fake news” was a denial that Jesus was both true God and true man. There were other “religious” people coming up to Christians to convince them that what the Apostles said about Jesus wasn’t entirely true. Specifically, back then, they were combining Bible truth with Greek philosophy to highlight that the Christ was only a spiritual thing. He wasn’t actually human, just looked like it. He didn’t actually die, just made it look that way.

So the Holy Spirit gives believers here an easy way to test for the truth. Verses 2 & 3: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit [every person] that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” Jakob, Hunter, and everyone here, your lives have to be a life of continual testing based on this same truth. If someone comes to you with a good sermon, nice worship, cool programs, a good philosophy, an amazing opportunity that sounds so good… but they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t coming to you as God’s messengers.  They aren’t helping you for eternity.

Today we don’t run into Greek philosophy so much. I think the biggest false teaching you will face is not a denial that Jesus is human.  The biggest false teaching is that Jesus just isn’t that important.

Atheists, agnostics, and rationalists, and humanists say you don’t need a savior because either there is no such thing as heaven and hell or we all end up in “the good place” anyways because you try to be good and divine beings, whoever they are, care about you. Some churches and pastors will teach you that the Bible is just a book that you have to search to find your own truth. Some teach you to add to what Jesus has done for you in order to make it to heaven.  Some teach you that being a Christian is all about God’s great blessings and how they can all be yours if you make the right choices and commitments.  Others say that your feelings and emotions are what bring you close to God.  Even your own brain and sinful heart will try to teach you that you’ve got it all figured out. Do you notice what’s wrong there?  Jesus isn’t that important.  He’s not the beginning, middle, and end.  He’s not the foundation.  He’s not the champion.  You are.

Jakob and Hunter, more than ever you need to test the spirits. Test the people that will try to influence you and “educate” you.  Test the teachings to see if they stand on the Savior who lived, died, and rose to save you from hell.  Test the churches to see if they are built on all of God’s Word or just some of it.  Test churches on Baptism and The Lord’s Supper to see if they say the arrow is point up – it’s something we do for God – or if the arrow is pointing down – something God’s grace does to us and for us.  Test things with this blessed faith in Jesus that God himself has planted in your heart.

Because your trust in who Jesus is and what he did is the most important thing God will ever give you. You know about Jesus’ miraculous birth, his perfect life, his innocent death, and how he did all of that to save you from sin.  You know that your sins condemned you to hell, but Jesus’ work and promises carry you to heaven. You know you’re saved by his work and not your own. You know the Bible is the Word of God and the trustworthy source of truth. You know that the stone was rolled away.  Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed! You know it and believe in it.

But the world denies it. The world makes Jesus less important, or it removes him altogether.  John calls that attitude toward Jesus the “spirit of the antichrist.” Now this isn’t the Antichrist with a capital “A” in 2 Thessalonians. That’s a real person and a real office that we can cover in a different sermon or Bible study, but John is talking about the same mentality: the desire to make Jesus less important or replace him altogether. With your own good habits and works. With sacrifices that you make instead of the sacrifice Jesus made. With pride in yourself and how you do you. With the rules of society or the manmade traditions of the church. That’s the spirit of the world.  It is not for Jesus.  It is against him, making him less important or totally replacing him with something more socially acceptable.

Today you are making a promise to be different from that – to stand before God and your families and your whole congregation and be willing to say no to the world. It’s not a vow to take lightly. In this vow you are saying, “I’m willing to be different. I know that Christ has set me apart in faith, made me a child of God.” You’re saying today that you will keep on testing everything you hear and read. Everything the world and your neighbors and your teachers tell you is right. You’ll compare what people say to what God says. That’s what you’re committing to today. To be faithful to God because you recognize the great gifts of forgiveness and faith that he’s given to you first.

Now if you’re going to do all this testing, you’re going to need the standard to judge by, an “answer sheet” you could say. You know where the answers are, right? In the Bible, God’s holy, inerrant, eternal Word. So read it! Read your Bible. If you need help with that, ask what your parents do. I’ll show you what I do and what I use to help me. Check out our church Facebook page where I post devotions almost every day.  Go to our WELS website.

For years you’ve spent an extra hour a week studying the Bible with other people. Don’t give that up now. Make Sunday morning a two-hour time with the Lord. Come to adult Bible study where the Lord uses his Word to continue your growth and development so that you can be a better and better tester of truth.

You can keep reading your catechism, too. It’s not a textbook, and it was never meant to be a textbook. I almost wish we didn’t use it that way. That little blue catechism is filled with God’s Word in a really organized layout. Let it be the blessing from God that it can be. Read it. Review it. Rejoice in the good news of Jesus that fills it.

By the way, this is not just stuff for two teenagers.  This is how God works for all his people.  He’s not an ogre, trying to ruin your life with all this studying and testing.  He’s your Father trying to keep your life from ruin.  Use his Word, that is where your Savior Jesus is.  It will be a blessing to you.  That’s God’s promise.

You think today is about the promises you two are making.  But God has so many many more promises for you.  Listen to this one from God in 1 John 4:4: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [false teachers, enemies], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

God is in you and that means all the false teachers and all the temptations of this world cannot beat you.  God is greater.  Jesus came to overcome all of them, and he did.  That’s the love God has for you, and that is the love that God has put in you.  It rolls away all the hatred and doubt and worry.  God’s love in Jesus is everything you need.  The one who is greater than all the world keeps you in his hands and guides you in all you do.

You have successfully finished catechism class. Those tests are over, but your real tests are just beginning.  But you don’t need to worry because God has overcome them for you. To him be the glory. Amen.

 

THE GOOD FRIDAY PROMISE FROM THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST

3.30.18 Good Friday

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Luke 23:39-43

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

Over the past six weeks during the midweek series, we’ve heard a lot about the high priests of the Old Testament.  And the book of Hebrews does such a great job of connecting the dots of how Jesus is the Great High Priest, not just for Jews, not just for good people, but for all people of all time.

And that is exactly how we arrive here, at Good Friday.  Good Friday is all about Jesus serving as our Great High Priest.    A sacrifice was necessary, but it could never be made by sinners.  Instead, it had to be made for sinners.

And make no mistake, that is what we are.  As I got ready for church today, that is what I saw in the mirror.  As I look around at all of you, that is what I see.  No, maybe I don’t know exactly what you said.  No, I don’t know what you thought.  No, I don’t know what you did this past Monday and Tuesday or 8 years ago.  But I do know who was speaking, thinking, and doing.  It was you, a person tainted like me, tainted from being born of two sinful parents, tainted from the sinful nature that is selfish and conceited, tainted from thoughts, words, and actions that are not always in line with God’s holy law.  We are, in fact, tainted so thoroughly that only a perfect sacrifice from God himself would offer us what is necessary for heaven.

That had to be running through the mind of the criminal hanging on one of those crosses next to Jesus.  “How can I get in to heaven?” He knows his sin.  As his life flashes before his eyes this Friday afternoon, he’s not proud of what he sees. He knows the nails through his hands were pounded with a hammer of justice. He knows the burn in his collapsing lungs was ignited by the fairness of the law. “We are getting what we deserve,” he chided the other criminal.  But that doesn’t help him at all with getting into heaven.  Nothing he could have, would have, should have done could help him now. This criminal is all out of options.

“How do I get into heaven?” is a question we contemplate, too.  And there are so many answers that people have come up with.  But if those answers aren’t looking at the man hanging on the center cross, like the one criminal, then there is no heaven.  With that kind of child-like faith the criminal pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

We don’t know how much time elapsed between the desperate request and the divine response. As this was apparently only the second word Jesus spoke from the cross, perhaps his breaths weren’t so shallow yet. But no matter whether it was minutes or seconds, God’s Great High Priest was making this sacrifice on the cross for him.  So, imagine the relief when he heard these words, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Every piece of that sentence lifted the criminal’s soul from the pit of death and despair.  The same is true for this criminal in front of you right now.  “Today,” Jesus said. Today you will be with me. For someone who sat on death row for who knows how long, for someone who had just begun one of the slowest forms of execution—one that could extend three or four days—how comforting that must have been for this criminal. Before the sun would rise again, this man is assured his suffering would be done.

The promises you and I make to one another come with conditions. If this happens, then that will happen. Perhaps we’ll visit there. Someday I’m going to do that. Jesus’ promise of relief to this repentant sinner was not in the form of an if/then clause. Nor was it preceded by a “perhaps” or a “someday.” It wasn’t a next month, a next week, or even a tomorrow, but a today. Through faith, this criminal could be assured his suffering would be over today.

When we’re lying on our own deathbeds, our Great High Priest, who made the full sacrifice for our sins, says the same. For the one who looks to Calvary’s center cross in faith, death is not just the cessation of breath. It’s the cessation of all suffering. No more hunger. No more pain. No more tears. No more guilt. No more anger. No more envy. No more sin . . . today.

Jesus’ promise is not just a promise of time. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Imagine what that meant for this criminal. More than likely, a life of crime did not land him in the nicest company of people. Now, in the waning hours of his life, he saw people at their worst. As the passersby spit on him and shook their heads in disgust, scorning him with their words and their glares, imagine how emotionally deserted this criminal must have felt. That was part of the punishment of crucifixion. Not only was it physically tormenting, it was embarrassing and shaming as you were hung naked just outside of a busy entrance to the city so that others could heap their insults on you.

But as much as this criminal wanted to escape the people around him, there was something that drew him to the man pinned on the middle cross. There was something different about this thorn-crowned criminal. Something that made him different than the soldiers and the scorners. There was something about him that made him different than the other criminals. Instead of cursing as the nails were driven through his hands, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Instead of the charges that convicted him to death being hung over his head, a statement of conviction, power, and fulfillment hung over Jesus’ head: “jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.” The differences between Jesus and everyone else on that hill were not comparable. It was the difference between sin and perfection. And the Holy Spirit used Jesus as the living Word of God to work on this criminal’s heart so that instead of wanting to run away from God in fear of punishment, he was drawn by God’s own grace.

And Jesus assures the criminal that the sin that separated him from a perfect God was not unbridgeable. Jesus promises, “You will be with me.” Not behind me. Not a stone’s throw away from me. But with me. Jesus’ forgiveness is so complete that it allows us to be in the very presence of perfection.

The high priests could only enter into the Most Holy Place of the Temple, the place of God’s presence among his people, once a year. And he had to follow the command of God and bring the blood of an animal sacrifice with him.  Our Great High Priest offered his holy precious blood for us.  We are cleansed by his sacrifice and are free to enter into God’s presence through Word and sacrament whenever we want.  And at death, we will be with the Lord forever.

The promise Jesus makes to the criminal also gives a place where he will be with Jesus.  “Today you will be with me in paradise. Let’s not make this beautiful promise about the types of vistas and vegetation that heaven’s paradise will hold.  It’s not about what you want heaven to look or feel like.  But it’s about the One walking with you on the paths of paradise that makes this promise so beautiful.

Think about it this way: when you’re at the airport to greet your son or spouse as he returns home from a two-year tour in Afghanistan, does it matter if the airport walls are gray or blue as you throw your arms around him? Does it matter if the room temperature is 72 or 82 degrees? Does it matter what smells are coming from the food stands? No, what matters is that you’re with the one you love. In heaven—in paradise—you’re with the Son of God. You’ll be with Jesus who loved you enough to leave heaven and be with you on earth. You’ll be with Jesus who loved you enough to live under the law that he was above. You’ll be with Jesus, our Great High Priest, who loved you enough to make the sacrifice for you, even when it meant his death on the cross. If Jesus thought having you in heaven with him was worth all that, you can be guaranteed it’s a spectacular place.

But how do you know this is what’s in store for you? Don’t forget those first words: “I tell you the truth.” Those are the English words. Do you know what one Greek word that comes from? AMEN. Isn’t that awesome! Jesus’ promise leaves no room for doubt.

In its history, the word amen was used to express the basic concept of support. For example, architects would use it to describe a supporting pillar of a building. It was also used to describe a parent standing with strong arms, supporting a helpless infant. That picture of certainty or strength behind the word made it a favorite word of Jesus. Whenever he wanted to really drive home an important point, when he really wanted everyone’s attention and to say, “This is something you can lean on,” he would start out by saying, “Amen.”

If there’s any time we need something to lean on, it’s at the time of our death. Today, Jesus makes it clear that when that moment comes, it doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past, if we are criminals in the eyes of the world or in the sight of a holy God.  We have a the one who sacrificed for all those sins.  They are gone.  He has given us something to lean on.  We have Jesus’ amen.  The Great High Priest, Jesus, promises, “Amen. Today you will be with me in paradise.”  There is only one thing to say to that, “Amen.”