IN THE BATTLE OF GOOD VS. EVIL, TEMPTATIONS HAVE MET THEIR MATCH

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Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

              “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
                   and they will lift you up in their hands,
                   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

History is full of fights.  Now, some of these are better than others.  What I mean is Coyote vs. Road Runner is not necessarily as important as The United States of America vs. England in the Revolutionary War.  Ali vs. Frazier might be a favorite of a boxing historian and Olympic fans might recall 1980 USA vs USSR hockey – the Miracle on Ice – but those fights don’t carry as much influence as the Axis vs. Allies in two World Wars.  We could bring up so many more; history is full of battles.

In our Sunday worship series during Lent (the next 6 weeks), we will see the epic war of good versus evil play out on many different fields of battle.  This is the one fight that means the most for us.  Today, God’s Word takes us out in the desert where the devil takes aim at Jesus.

Jesus had just been begun his public ministry. Before this, Jesus had been living in Nazareth where he was known as the carpenter’s son. But the time had come.  John the Baptist had paved the way.  Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan where God had announced to the people just who Jesus was.  And then, the first thing Jesus had to do was face the devil for forty days in the desert.

I remember when my public ministry started back in August , 2011.  If my first job was to go mano y mano with Satan himself for the first month, I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be a pastor anymore.  But that’s where Jesus and I are different.  His job on earth was to face off against the devil every day.  He was here for battle, battle against our sin, battle against temptations, battle against our old evil foe. On top of that Jesus was God on earth.  If anyone could go toe to toe with the devil, it was Jesus.  But that didn’t make it easy for Jesus.  His fight wasn’t a walk in the park. Remember, he was God and also man.  Being on earth means that he gave up full use of his divine characteristics.  It meant he would face what we face.

The devil is cunning and crafty.  He knows how to bring the right kind of temptations at the right time.  When you are feeling healthy, comfortable and content the devil knows you aren’t desperate so he’s not going to tempt you with something simple like bread, although he can sure find ways to make even things look tempting when it isn’t needed, right?  But then there are times when we are starving spiritually, emotionally, even physically, and the devil knows what to do then, too.

That’s the first temptation we hear about in our lesson. “Hey Jesus, if you are the Son of God, you’re going to have to prove it.  Sure, the baptism was cool with the Holy Spirit as the dove and the heavens torn open with God’s voice of approval, but now you have to do something for me.  You’re hungry, so make these stones bread for yourself.” By the end of those 40 days, Jesus was hungry. Who wouldn’t be?  So notice how the devil made this temptation specific for Jesus at this specific time.  And it’s so reasonable: bread for a starving man.  What could be wrong with that?  But Jesus wasn’t sent here to do miracles for the devil.  The only reason Jesus did miracles was to help people and confirm his powerful saving message.  There was nothing he could do to help Satan.  Plus, Satan already knew who he was.  But that’s how he works; he’s tricky and opportunistic.

He knows how to do that against us, too.  He knows your weaknesses.  If your weakness is worry, then he’s going to find all sorts of things for you to fret about.  If your weakness is lust, there a plenty of tools at his disposal to stoke the fire.  If your weakness is anger, every day he will find something to ignite your temper. If your weakness is selfishness, he will find ways to make you feel more important than you actually are.  But these are not reasons to give in to him or to stop fighting against his temptations.  We can’t just say, “Well, it’s my weak spot, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Is that what faith in Jesus says? I just don’t think you’ll find anywhere in the Bible where God says, “Oh well, at least you tried.”

How about the second temptation? “Hey Jesus, I’m not sure about you. If you are God’s Son then God should keep his promises for you.  He’ll protect you against harm, right? Here’s a Bible passage to prove it. So jump, Jesus.  Take a leap of faith and let’s see what happens.”  In this fight, the devil knows your doubts and fears.  He will come convincing you that God doesn’t care about you, that he can’t seriously be listening to you all the time, that his power has a limit, or that he could never love someone like you.  The devil is even willing to twist Scripture.  He’ll question your footing on the rock-solid truth of God.  He’ll question everything God says to try to change your view.

Then there is the last temptation. “Hey Jesus, you are a powerful person.  You should have power here in this world. Bow down to me just once and I will make it happen.”  During our battles, the devil knows your desires, too.  He knows the things you want – even the good, God-pleasing desires.  The thought that Jesus should rule the world is not a bad thing.  Jesus had every right to rule the earth as King of kings.  He made the world, after all. There’s nothing wrong with Jesus ruling.  But to receive the throne by worshiping Satan?  No way!

Sin has a way of warping the good desires we have.  Yes, it is good to be happy.  Yes, it is good to be fulfilled and content.  Yes, you should enjoy this life that God has given you.  Those are good desires.  It’s just that sin and temptations want you to arrive there by taking the wrong route.  Happiness is not found in a bottle or in shopping mall.  You don’t find fulfillment by breaking your marriage vow. You can’t find contentment by filling your bank account.  And no matter what you think, this world is not a personal amusement park for you and your toys.

But that’s what Satan wants us to think. And to get us thinking this way, he makes promises that he cannot deliver. Because as soon as we give into sin – every time – we see how we have lost the fight against the devil.  We realize that he is lying.  The bottle doesn’t bring happiness, just the sad reality that you have found a new master for your life. Breaking your marriage vow doesn’t bring fulfillment but leads to empty hearts and empty homes.  A bursting bank account doesn’t bring contentment but creates more cravings that can never be satisfied.  Thinking that this world is a great place for me and my toys directs us away from the joys of heaven.

The devil makes these promises, and he cannot deliver them.  Did you notice how he does that to Jesus? He speaks as if he is the owner of all the kingdoms of the world? “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.”  No, that wasn’t true. And all too often, we find out that his half-truths are empty and destructive.

Satan is fighting hard against Jesus here, and he fights hard against every one of us.  I think we all realize that the battle we have against Satan often doesn’t happen the way it should. I’m not sure we always put up much of a fight against the devil and his temptations. Sadly, rather than fighting off temptations, we give in.  And we may even start to like some of them.

Today, I would love to give you a guidebook on how to get the devil out of your life.  I’d love to have a booklet that you can pick up after church giving you the 7 steps for fighting off temptations. But I don’t have that.  I don’t have a promise for you that if you just believe enough, pray enough, and do enough good you will be able to fight off all the devil’s temptations.  I don’t have a guidebook, a self-help manual, or an empty promise for you.

I have something better.  I have someONE better. He’s able to keep every commandment and fend off every temptation. He’s the one who came to fight our battles against sin.  He has the love and the power to save you.

There was a time when our perfect life and perfect relationship with God was lost because a man and his wife lost the battle against Satan.  They ate what the devil wanted them to eat.  But this time it was different.  Jesus didn’t give in.  He used the Word. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” That was the first shot in the historic battle against the devil.  Jesus was here to change things.  He was not going to give in.  Jesus was here to rescue the lost and bring life to this place of death.

When the second temptation came, the devil tried to use God’s Word against him. Jesus said you can quote Scripture all you want, but you can’t change what it means or twist what God says.  Jesus made it known that he would follow God’s plan to the end and he would follow it perfectly.

When the third temptation came, Jesus knew that Satan was making an empty promise. Jesus was going to sit on the throne and rule all things, but it wouldn’t happen because of an unholy alliance with the devil.  He would take his rightful spot after he finished his work on the cross and rose triumphantly from the grave.  Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”  That is the place where a Christian has power and peace, in the Lord’s presence in his house.

These were the first shots that Jesus took in this historic battle to prove the devil wrong.  He came to do what we couldn’t do.  Jesus came to be what we couldn’t be.  And God says the Jesus did it all in our place.  The victory that Jesus won against the devil that day, God gives it to you.  You can fight all your temptations knowing the Jesus fought them for you.

But the war wasn’t over on that day.  There is more to come as we look at different fields of battle, but we know who is fighting.  Jesus Christ is God in flesh.  He is the Savior and substitute.  He is the one that the devil fears.

With that kind of Savior doesn’t that change the way you fight against temptations.  Knowing that your Savior fought that battle, doesn’t it help?  But he didn’t just fight that day in the desert, he won!  And it wasn’t just one battle that he fought, he fought them all, and he won!  All the times when the devil’s temptations took advantage of weaknesses, all the times when you doubted God’s power, all the times your desires were used against you – for all your sin, Jesus’ victory over the devil was given to you.

Today, we see Jesus at war against the devil and his temptations. We see the battle of good vs. evil, and temptations have met their match.  That’s not just true for Jesus.  It’s true for you.  Jesus went to war against the devil’s temptations as your perfect Savior.  Jesus went to war for your forgiveness. And he won!  He’s the strength and courage you need in your battles, and he’s always with you.

Amen.

 

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GLORY THAT NEVER ENDS

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(This week, Jesus’ sermon is not so much in the form of his words, but from his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration and from the Father’s lips.  As we finish the season of Epiphany and get ready for Lent, we get a glimpse of God’s glory in the person of Jesus.  Only a man with power from heaven could save us.  He gives us the message we need from this mountain: God is here to give his people salvation that came from heaven and provides an eternal home for us.  Listen to him and you will not be disappointed.)

Matthew 17:1-9

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

 

It’s all about the glory.  That’s how a lot of these competition shows work.  I’m no expert, but I think most of the intrigue is wrapped up in the glory.  Who’s going to be left standing at the end of the episode?  Who’s going to have the best voice?  Who lost the most weight?  Who will she choose?

I think they’re all a bunch of nonsense, because there’s one huge flaw: what happens after the glorious reveal?  What happens when it’s all done? After fighting over one man and doing anything, and I mean anything, to get him, the Bachelor never has love.  What he has is someone who won a competition.  He doesn’t have someone who will get a bucket for him when he is sick or make his favorite meal once a month.  After the dress is picked and the wedding day comes, then where does this fancy and pricy dress go?  I know in my house it sits in a box in the back of a closet.  When all the pounds are shed, then what happens?  This person who just lost 200 pounds is out of the spotlight.  There’s really no glory in maintaining a diet and exercise plan.  No one watches that show.

The glorious moments on TV are just that, a few fleeting moments.  The glory fades and life gets back to normal. Do you think that is how Peter, James, and John felt as they walked down the mountain?

They had seen his miracles before.  They all knew who Jesus was.  He was God’s chosen one.  He was the Savior of the world.  But they had never seen Jesus glorified like this.  Even during all the big moments of Jesus’ life, he didn’t morph like this.  Sure there were angels singing at his birth, but he was actually quite a normal baby lying in the manger.  The people of Nazareth saw a little boy grow up like little boys normally do (except without any of the mischief).   The miracles were certainly out of this world, but at those times Jesus didn’t change.  He changed the lives of other people with his divine power, but his appearance never resembled God on earth… until now.

Peter, James, and John witnessed something that wasn’t even a little bit normal.  We say that a bride shines on her wedding day. We use the expression that expectant mother glimmers during pregnancy. When a child is born with an elevated bilirubin count (that’s called jaundice) we might talk about the orange glow.  Those things aren’t really happening; it’s a metaphor.  But on this day, it did happen.  Jesus’ face actually lit up like that big ball of hot mass that we wish would make it warmer right now.  His shining face and clothing brought grown men shaking to their knees.

And then, Moses and Elijah showed up, too.  Moses and Elijah both had their own glorious moments.  We heard about Moses on Mount Sinai today.  He witnessed the glory of God as he received the Ten Commandments. God’s prophet, Elijah, saw God’s power on Mount Carmel, when fire from heaven consumed his burnt offering.  Elijah saw God’s glory when the fiery chariots took him from this earth.

These two didn’t show up to give Jesus a pep talk, but it was all a part of the glory that Jesus was given.  Moses is the one who was given the Law.  Elijah is one of the most powerful prophets of the Bible.  Do you see what’s going on here?  Jesus’ eternal identity is revealed in all its glory.  He is the Almighty God.  But along with his power, Jesus is also the one who fulfills all of the Old Testament laws and prophets.

On the top of that mountain, God shows us what kind of Savior he sent to us.  Can you blame Peter for saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one fore Moses, and one for Elijah”?  I would want to stay in that moment as well.  But they didn’t.  After this gush of glory, after seeing Moses and Elijah, and after hearing God voice his love and approval of the work Jesus was doing, everything went back to normal.  The glory and the grandeur, the big reveal was done.

Do you ever feel that way?  You know, like those shows on TV.  The glorious reveal is exciting and uplifting, but then it doesn’t last.  Do you feel like the disciples walking down from the mountain, just wishing you could stay longer and get another glimpse?

Let me tell you what I’m talking about.  Life as a Christian starts out great.  Whether it happened when we were baptized as a baby or, for some, when a friend, spouse, or neighbor introduced you to the God who saved you.  God’s glory was bursting as he opened up our hearts and minds to a love that we didn’t think was possible. God’s Spirit planted faith in each of our hearts.  We were changed from darkness to light.  We learned things about our God and our Savior that opened up a completely new life for us – a life that isn’t about rules or opinions or making up for past mistakes, but a life of grace, good news and forgiveness.

But then the glory of it all started to fade.  It happens after confirmation, as if studying God’s Word regularly is only for kids. It happens when life gets really challenging at the loss of a job or a loved one.  It happens when friends and family start to make you the butt of their jokes.  It happens when rumors start to tear God’s family apart.  It happens when temptations come at a fever pace. It happens when guilt keeps you up at night.  It happens whenever we fail to regularly see and hear what great things our Lord has done.

Getting farther and farther away from the glory of the Lord, we become convinced that it is less and less exciting to be a part of God’s family.  Like defiant children we start to plow our own path beyond where we should be.  We start to find more acceptable or more pleasurable avenues. The wonder of the Christian life fades.  We start to say things like, “Lord, maybe it isn’t so nice to be here.”

Today, Jesus clears up some of those misconceptions about the glory of being his follower.  And it happens after his glorious reveal.  While the four of them are coming down the mountain, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  Jesus isn’t being selfish here.  He’s not the type of guy to keep good news to himself.  What he is doing is telling us that his job isn’t finished.  You see, God’s plan isn’t about earthly glory.  Sure it would be nice to have a fatter bank account and a life filled with earthly honors, but God doesn’t need you to have those things now because he has something better waiting for you. Jesus came down from that mount because there was something more important than earthly glory and power.  Jesus had to finish his work.  That’s what made him leave the glory and power of heaven and live in a place that was lacking it.  God loved you so much that he set aside glory and power so that your eternity could be filled with it.

Today as we have a brief glimpse of the power and glory of God and hear his voice boom from the clouds, we get a preview of what’s coming.  We get a preview of what Jesus has won for us.  And he didn’t do his saving work with power and glory.  He did it with the most brilliant display of love and humility.  Just think of his betrayal, his anguish, his arrest, his “trial,” how he was used as a punching bag, how he was stripped of his dignity.  Think of his physical pain and suffering, and then think of his mental pain and suffering as his Father abandoned him to suffer for the sins of the world.

You and I are allowed to witness Jesus’ glorious reveal along with those disciples because God wants us to know that Jesus is the right one for the job.  What’s the job?  It’s not bringing you glory and power for your lives on earth.  Jesus’ job wasn’t to make people afraid of God’s power.  Jesus’ job was to save you from darkness of your sin.  Jesus’ job was to remove your guilt forever.  Jesus’ job was to restore our broken relationship with God.  Jesus’ job was to give us a home in heaven.

Did you remember those words Jesus uses? “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  Unlike the participants in those TV shows, who have to keep the results quiet until the show airs and unlike the disciples who had to keep this transfiguration silent for a while, we get to speak up because we know what happens.  We know that Jesus’ work didn’t end with suffering and death.  It ended in life.  He rose from the dead.  We are about to start that journey this week as we walk with Jesus down from this mountain to Mt. Calvary.  But let’s never forget that his journey ends at the empty tomb.

So take note of what’s going on today.  Pay attention to the sights and sounds.  God has a message about Jesus for us, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  Listen and learn from Jesus over the next 6 weeks during Lent.  We are going to see him do things for us that no one else can do.  And don’t worry about your problems and guilt.  Jesus calmly reassures us, “Don’t be afraid.” This is not like one of those garbage shows on TV, where the glory wears off in the weeks and months that follow.  This is God showing us the glory of our Lord Jesus.  He is your God and your Savior.  And always will be.

This is the kind of show that will never get old.  Yes, Lord, it is good for us to be here. Amen.

 

Is Christianity Broken?

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Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Love is in the air.  You felt it this past Tuesday, right?  That’s the day we’re all supposed to acknowledge people we love with gifts, cards, and flowers, and the people who love you do the same.  Now, it’s not a good idea to keep this kind of thing hidden until February 14.  That’s not what love does.  When you love someone you find ways to show them that fact every day.  Love isn’t butterflies in your stomach, that’s nerves.  Love isn’t that feeling of walking on the clouds, that’s infatuation or fixation.   Love is giving your time to make a meal and clean up so that your wife doesn’t have to.  Love is taking him out to get a grill or a new hunting accessory.  It’s giving your wife some time away from the kids.  It’s letting your husband go to the game or on the fishing trip.  It’s cleaning up your room before your parents ask.  It’s being honest and helpful. It’s letting your little brother have the last scoop of ice cream.  It’s all that kind of stuff that you do for someone you care about, not really looking for something in return.  That’s what love does.

And this kind of love is not only key for a marriage and in a family, but also for Christians and a congregation.  God has so much to say about love in the Bible and most of the time it is not in the context of a marriage.  Most of the time, he is telling us how we can care about our brothers and sisters in the faith.

But today, Jesus takes it even a step farther than that. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  He says love is also for people that don’t love you back.  He says love is for your enemies. This isn’t the kind of person that annoys you at work. This is the kind of person who lies about you, trying to ruin your career.  Jesus isn’t talking about the quiet outsider but the loudmouth protester who’s trying to wreak havoc. This isn’t the talkative kid who sits behind you at school. This is the bully who keeps verbally and physically putting the hurt on you.

What do you want to do to people like that?  The natuarl human reaction is…to get even, or worse! Just look at kids.  When a brother steals his sister’s toy, she gets mad and takes it back with a little shove.  Then, the brother trips her.  Then, world war III breaks out.  To keep that natural reaction in check, God gave civil laws to his people in the days of Moses so that people wouldn’t go crazy with retaliation.  The civil government would levy just and appropriate punishments.  If someone’s eye got hurt by another person it wasn’t the death penalty.

Jesus recalls that rule. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  Jesus is not saying that you can’t defend yourself from an attack to your home or family.  He’s not saying that you must be a scrawny passivist with no gumpiton.  Jesus is saying that for his people there is something much more important than your idea of personal justice.

Listen to his next example. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” The tunic was the shirt, the garment right next to your body and the cloak was the outer garment. Of the two, the cloak was more expensive and more important. In the Old Testament, God made a special point to say that if you were borrowing a cloak you had to return it by sunset so that the owner could have it for sleeping.  Jesus is saying here that if someone is suing you for “the shirt of your back,” then give them your more expensive and most important garments, too.

Is Jesus saying this is what your enemies deserve?  Not at all! Really Jesus is saying there is something more important than your personal rights and feelings.  Jesus wants our primary concern directed to others, not just the people who care about you but also those who are mean to you or who are trying to take advantage of you.

Jesus loves being really clear for us, so here’s another example: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Maybe your dad used that experession, “Go the extra mile.”  Mine did. This is where we get that from.  Here’s the background to that phrase.  In Jesus’ day, Palestine was under Roman rule. There were Roman soldiers there to keep the peace, which the Jews weren’t thrilled about.  Romans soldiers were permited by law to compel civilians to carry their baggage for one mile.  How do you think Jews felt about such a rule?  They hated it.  And you would, too.

Let’s just say we live in a country that is under the rule of another nation.  You’re driving down the expressway and a soldier of that foreign nation can stop you, put his bags in your trunk and tell you a new direction.  And you have to do it!  How would you feel about such a rule?  You’d hate it.  And you wouldn’t be so fond of the soldiers either. Even if it was legal, it doesn’t seem fair.

Jesus says, “Don’t just do what is expected, but go beyond what is asked of you. And do this for people who you don’t care for.” Why is this something that Jesus wants us to do?  Well, he says there is something more important than your idea of fairness.

What’s more important than your personal justice, what’s more important that your personal rights and feelings, what’s more important that your personal idea of fairness?  Jesus tells you.  It’s love.  Jesus says his people will sacrifice our own personal feelings, attitudes, and even our personal possessions in the name of love, because love is more important.  Demonstrating Christ-like love to another person is more important, even if that person is your worst enemy.

Is that how you live?  Is that what you teach your children, not just with your words but also with your example?  Is that what Christianity is known for?  Are we known for how much we love people?  Are we known for how much we will sacrifice for others who might even hate us?

Reading this section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount made me ask a few times this week: is Christianity broken?  Because for a lot of people,  the answer is “Yes.” Christianity is not the answer but a problem.  You may know people personally that think Christianity is not doing anyone any good.  Churches are filled with hypocrites who learn about love and peace and serving others, but refuse to practice it.  Churches that preach Christ don’t follow his example.  Christianity just gives people a superiority complex and a license to do whatever they want, because God’s always going to forgive.

Is that the message you are sending? Are you failing to give up your own desires, opinions and preferences for the sake of others?  Are you too interested in your comfort zone and the way you like things to show love to people who need it?  Are we willing to love people with the kind of love Jesus is teaching us?

You know, this is a section of Scripture that can be down right offensive to us.  “Lord, I’m trying.  I come to worship.  I give offerings.  I help out for different church things.  I wear a smile on my face.  I try to be as positive as possible.  But ‘Love my enemies.’  I just can’t.  They have hurt me too much.  I don’t want to have anything to do with them.  It’s not going to work.  They’ll never change.”  If you have ever had those thoughts, then do you know what you are doing?  You are saying, “Thanks, Jesus, but no thanks.  I love what the Bible says, but not this part of it.”  And do you know what God says to people who treat his Word like that? “If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city…”  If you can’t be perfect, if you can’t love your enemies like Jesus teaches here, then you don’t get to live with a perfect God in his perfect home.

Who can?  Who can do this?  Who in this world can love people, even enemies all the time?  Who can prove that Christianity is not broken?  I have to admit today, I can’t.  You can’t.  Not one person in the world can have this kind of love perfectly.  Not one person can hold up themselves or their church and say, “I’m not broken.  I’ve got it right.”

But listen to this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”   Did you hear that?  God causes the sun to rise on good and evil people.  He sends rain for his believers and unbelievers.  God says the only person who can have this perfect love for enemies is him.

So God decided to come here for people who were not on his side.  God came down to live in a place filled with evil people.  And he showed them love.  When he was rejected by so many, he did not give up.  When plans were made to get rid of him, he did not stay away.  When he was arrested, he didn’t argue.  When he was on trial he spoke the truth in love. When he was mocked, spit on, and beaten, he turned the other cheek.  When he was crucified, he prayed for them.  When our sins caused all of this to happen, Christ willingly and lovingly decided to take it all for us so that we would never face the punishment we deserve.

Christ did this for us while we were sinful and evil opponents to God.  He died for us.  The Spirit washed our sins in the blood of Christ with the water of Baptism when we were still hostile to God.  God loved you, even when you were not lovable so that you would be a child of the Father in heaven.

Is Christianity broken?  Not a chance with Christ at the center.  When Christianity starts to be about me and my feelings and my preferences, it’s doomed.  But when Christianity is about the love of Christ, when it’s about showing others the sacrifice that Christ made, when it’s about the home Christ has won for sinners, then nothing can stop it.

Brothers and sisters, you have a God who loved you and made you his very own when you weren’t on his side.  Now that he has brought you in and made you his child, what does that do to you?  It makes you live every day for him.  It makes his love show up in your life.

A really nasty coworker, protestors with different political viewpoints, bullies at school, and every other enemy there may be has a God who loves them, has a Savior who died for them, and has a Christian just like you who cares for them.  That is what God’s love has done to you.  He has made you like his Son.  He has filled you with his love that is not partial or restricted, but it’s for all.  It’s that kind of love that puts others first because Christ put us first.  Last week was about showing love to those you care about and the people who love you.  Now, Jesus gives us a different focus with our love, to those who don’t care so much for you.  And you can do it because God’s love fills you and then it works through you.

God grant it.  Amen.

 

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

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Matthew 5

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Last week Jesus preached a portion of his Sermon on the Mount, telling us to be who we are.  He said God has made us to be salt in a rotting world.  That means he uses us in the preservation process until Jesus comes back at the end of time.  We preserve this world not with great acts of ingenuity nor with promoting individualism but by listening to Jesus’ word and following his example. He said God has made us light to shine in the darkness of sin and unbelief.  We shine with the light of the gospel not to bring attention to ourselves but so that God is glorified and others see the eternal light that Jesus has provided for us.

In summary, we could say that Jesus’ sermon last week was an encouragement to Christians.  He said if you are a child of God, then live like it.  Be who you are so that others can see it.  Again, that encouragement is not to show us how to earn a place in heaven.  Instead, Jesus is telling us that when a loving God chooses to bring you into his family that changes how you live.  God gives you the power and purpose to be salt and light in a rotting, dark world.

Jesus finished up that portion of his sermon last week by saying, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”   The disciples and followers that Jesus was preaching to knew all about the Pharisees and their extreme devotion to obeying the Book of the Law.  Pharisees were so religious about all of God’s Old Testament Law that they even made up more rules and regulations just to be safe.  But that kind of righteousness is still missing something isn’t it?  Even with their strict obedience, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were still not completely right to God.

That’s why Jesus continues his sermon with these next few sections recorded in Matthew 5. When someone thinks getting into the kingdom of heaven is about following God’s laws, then Jesus says you’d better know what all of God’s laws are…and there’s still more to it than that!  It’s not enough to simply obey God’s laws.

Jesus gives us a few examples of that.  He starts off with the 5th Commandment, murder.  Obeying the 5th Commandment means that you will not kill anyone ever.  That seems reasonable.  God wants us to value human life. He wants us to treat it like the gift it is.  And I think we all get that.  Murder is not good. So we don’t do it.  That is obeying the 5th Commandment.

But Jesus says it goes beyond that.  If God wants us to value human life, then the 5th Commandment doesn’t just deal with taking a life, but the 5th Commandment also deals with how we talk about and what we think about human life.  If you are mad at someone, if you hold a grudge against someone, if you say something with anger in your heart, if you call people hurtful names, all of this is breaking the 5th Commandment, too.

Do you see what’s going on here?  Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter.  He wants us to understand that the law is about a lot more than our actions.  That is all the Pharisees cared about.  They wanted to be seen as the moral, upright citizens who were so good at living according to God’s laws.  But they forgot one thing about God, he sees the heart.  And from these religious leaders who were so conscientious about their actions, Jesus saw hearts that were full of the wrong kind of righteousness: self-righteousness.  That means they did not receive righteousness from God as a gift of his grace, but they were trying to get it from themselves, which is really no righteousness at all.

Let me say that another way.  They thought being seen as moral and upright religious people was going to earn themselves a place in God’s kingdom.  So they neglected and ignored God’s promises and paid all their attention to his laws.  The problem with that is it ignores the heart of the matter.

You obey the 5th Commandment by not killing another person.  But you break the 5th Commandment by trying to hurt someone, by saying hateful things to another person or about another person, or by being angry with another person.  The heart matters just as much as the words that come from your lips and the work that comes from your hands.

And the same thing is true for the 6th Commandment, adultery.  You can try to say that you have never had sex with someone other than your spouse.  You can try to plead your case, saying, “I never had sex before I was married.”  But what have your eyes seen?  What has your heart felt?  If you have used the internet for impure purposes, then Jesus has a title for you: adulterer.  If you have thought of someone in an impure way, adulterer.  If someone treats marriage like it’s not a full-time loving commitment between a man and a woman for life, if someone ends a marriage because they just don’t have the passion anymore or they are giving up on their spouse, then Jesus says that leads to adultery.

Finally, in this section, Jesus brings up the way you talk.  He says during your conversations, do not say things like, “I swear by heaven that it’s true.”  And really his point is don’t color your conversations with any improper language.  “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ No.”  And if you struggle with that, Jesus says it’s like the devil is inside you speaking for you.

Now, to a lot of people this doesn’t make any sense.  It’s even offensive to our human nature to think that if I harbor anger in my heart it’s the same as murder.  No one who is angry will get sentenced to life in prison.  It’s so contrary to popular opinion to say that looking at porn is the same as sleeping around.  In the eyes of the world, just because someone is vulgar doesn’t mean they are from the devil.

But for the God of all creation, he sees the heart of the matter.  He sees sin and it doesn’t matter to him if the sin is an action, a word, a thought, or an attitude.  Sin is sin and it’s unacceptable.  Sin is sin and it’s damnable. Living like the Pharisees, with a really good outward appearance, cannot get you to heaven. A good outward façade cannot change the condition of your heart.

But I know someone who can.  I know someone who can change the heart of the matter.  I know someone who can obey the 5th Commandment.  He didn’t murder.  He didn’t hate or hurt.  He didn’t call people names.  He didn’t hold grudges.  I know someone who obeyed the 6th Commandment perfectly.  He lived a pure life.  His eyes never wandered.  His heart never lusted. He never gave in to passion or pleasure.  I know someone who kept his conversations pure and decent.  He didn’t think the colorful language was necessary.  And he did all of that for you.

Jesus came here not just to preach a good message, but to live it, too.  He had to because God knew that we could never earn righteousness for ourselves; it would have to be a gift of his grace.  God knew that our hearts would never be made pure by ourselves so he would do it for us. And so Jesus came to be the perfect Savior and substitute for us.  His perfect life gets to the heart of the matter.  His perfect life gives us the kind of righteousness we need.  And on the cross, he willingly handed it over.  He gave his perfect life as the sacrifice for our sins.  The perfect and innocent Son of God gave up his life for sinful and guilty people like us.  Jesus removed the broken pieces of the 5th Commandment, 6th Commandment, and all of God’s laws, and replaced them with the pure and perfect life that God expects from his children.

By faith in Jesus we have been purified.  And do you know what pure people do?  They don’t sin.  They don’t do sinful actions.  They don’t say sinful words. They don’t think sinful thoughts.  They don’t have sinful attitudes.

It’s hard to think that way, I know.  It’s hard to look at my life that is tainted by sin as pure and holy. But, brothers and sisters, if the perfect Savior has removed sins against the 5th Commandment, 6th Commandment, and all of God’s laws, if he has made us pure with his righteousness, then that’s the way God sees us.  He sees his own children who have been washed clean in baptism.  He sees a soul where the Holy Spirit has taken up residence and continues to keep us in faith.    That’s the heart of the matter.

With that kind of heart, do you know what kind of thoughts, words, and actions are going to follow? Good ones, holy ones, and God-pleasing ones.  The Pharisees had it backwards.  They thought their top-notch obedience would work its way to righteousness in God’s eyes.  But they didn’t see the heart of the matter.  Only a heart that has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, only a heart that clings to the cross of Jesus, and only a heart that listens to Jesus can live for God.

So that’s what you will do.  You will live a holy life because God has made you holy.  It’s his power, it’s his grace, and it’s his holiness.  That is the heart of the matter.

Amen.

 

WHAT GOOD IS A SERMON ABOUT SALT AND LIGHT?

sermon-on-the-mount

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

There are many different kinds of sermons.  There are deductive sermons.  Those are the ones with a theme based on a portion of Scripture, which is broken up into a few parts.  As we said at the Seminary, “You tell people what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, and then you tell them what you just told them.” There are explanations, illustrations, and applications sprinkled in but it’s basically preaching God’s Word logically and outlined point by point.

Then there are inductive sermons.  Those are the ones that kind of follow the plot of a movie or book.  The beginning introduces not the main point of that particular section of God’s Word but the malady or problem that people face.  The preacher then shows how that is not just a problem for people in Bible times or for people out there, but that this malady also hits home for every one of us, too.  That brings a certain sense of uneasiness or tension, similar to a movie when you wonder what is going to happen.  But there’s a twist; it’s not all bad news for us, because God has turned things around.  At the climax, the pastor reveals the Biblical solution to sin is found in the gospel of Jesus.  That good news helps us live happily ever after.

There are expositions, or homilies.  That’s more of a verse-by-verse or phrase by phrase sermon.  There are also narrative sermons where the preacher may take on a role of a Biblical person to bring that section to life. There are a few more, and there are plenty of mixtures between these various styles.

You can probably guess what I’m going to say next.  Is the style the most important part? Not so much!  The essential element must always be the pure Word of God. The style, the personality of the preacher, the lighting or seating in the sanctuary, the fellowship snacks, the robe or lack of a robe, these things do deserve some thought but they aren’t the main attraction on a Sunday morning.  The message of God’s Word is.

A sermon that teaches God’s Word improperly doesn’t do anyone any good ever.  Adding personal beliefs and interpretations or subtracting things that may be unpopular from God’s Word is not going to shine the pure light of Christ.  The sermon must always find its basis and its power in God’s law and gospel.  Plain and simple, a sermon should show you your sin and show you how God has completely removed your sins through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

This is called the teaching of justification.  If you have been coming to our Sunday morning Bible basics class, then you might remember that word.  It’s the central focus in Scripture. Justification is a courtroom term that means “to declare someone not guilty.”  Now, sinners like us do not do good works – cannot do good works – to earn that declaration from God.  We are guilty.  Nothing we do can change that reality. The Bible makes that abundantly clear.  Jesus came to this world to earn justification for us.  He made the sacrifice.  He did the work so that we would be forgiven of all sin and declared perfectly innocent by God.  Through faith in Christ, we are children of God and our inheritance is in heaven.  That is a statement of fact.  It’s not a wish or a hope.  It’s God’s honest truth from his own lips in his Word.  That’s the message of justification that God gives you over and over again.  No matter what the style is, a sermon that comes from God’s Word must proclaim that central message.

But there’s something else a sermon should probably do, too.  It should probably show a child of God how to be a child of God. That is called the teaching of sanctification.  (I know we’re getting into some big words today, but these words come from God’s Word to help us understand what God is teaching us)  Sanctification is the ongoing work that God carries out to help us live like people who are justified. That’s what Jesus is talking about today in this section of his Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5.  He says you are the salt and light of the world.  But what good is a sermon about salt and light?

Well, salt should probably make things salty and light should probably illuminate dark places. Jesus is saying that you should make an impact.  He says be who you are.  The thought that Jesus is getting at is not how you earn your way in to God’s good graces.  That’s not possible.  God’s saves people by grace through faith in Jesus. In other words, he does the work for us.  What Jesus is saying in this part of his sermon is that when you are a child of God you better look like it.  Your good works don’t make a bit of difference in getting you to heaven, but that is not a reason to put that light of faith under a bowl so that only you know it’s there.

Jesus wants you to live as a child of God because that is who you are.  He paid for your adoption into God’s family.  The Spirit took up residence in your heart at your baptism.  You are completely and totally God’s child for eternity.  So, Jesus wants you to act like it.

Jesus wants you to act like it for two really important reasons.  First, it gives glory to God.  When you shine with the brilliance of Christ, it’s like giving God a thank you.  He has made you his very own.  You don’t have to worry about death anymore.  You don’t have to get caught up in the greed of this age.  You don’t have to stew in anger about protests or politics, because you know that your home is in heaven forever.  So when you do good things it’s a way of showing how great he is and telling him thank you for this new life that you have.

And the second reason Jesus says he wants you to act like a child of God is because Jesus intends to use your words and actions to bless the people around you.  That’s what he is getting at with these two illustrations, salt and light.

Let’s start with the salt.  Most people use that phrase “you are the salt of the earth” to say someone is a good person, down to earth, helpful worker, and stuff like that.  Sometimes saying someone is salty can mean that they have a little bite, they are blunt and opinionated.  But that’s not how Jesus meant it.

What Jesus was talking about is that this world is rotting.  In Jesus’ day they didn’t have refrigerators.  So if you butchered a cow, by the end of the day it was getting a bit funky.  Without some method of preserving meat, it goes bad in a hurry.  We put meat in the fridge or freezer, but in Jesus day they used salt to cure and preserve meat.

Jesus is saying this world is rotting.  It’s like when you turn on the news or you scroll through the headlines and you see all this negativity: problems in schools, problems in governments, and problems in other nations. It seems to be getting worse.  And that isn’t some nostalgic commentary hoping we can get back to the good old days.  The Bible says the world is decaying and sin doesn’t help that.  At some point God will bring the End, but until that happens, do you know what he is doing to slow down the rotting?  He sprinkles the world with salt.  God uses you to keep this world from rotting to its core.

That does mean we should be Christians who stand up for what God calls good.  Neighbors, coworkers, and friends should know that we stand for what God wants and not what he forbids.  People should see the compassion and love that we have because God has first shown his love to us.  We should be good parents and employees, not keeping our faith in the shaker but sprinkling it everywhere we are.  God says that we are salt and it makes a difference in the world.

Jesus also calls us light.  He says a town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  When you live in North Dakota it’s really clear what Jesus is saying.  I will always remember when we moved here, the trip from Fargo to Bismarck.  It was a clear day and you could see for about 1000 miles.  But when you’re heading west you can’t really see Bismarck until you make that left had turn on I-94.  Then, all of the sudden – boom – Bismarck appears out of nowhere!  But then I remember the first time we made that drive at night.  We were driving back from visiting friends in South Dakota.  You could see the hazy glow of Bismarck from Hazelton, if not farther.  You couldn’t miss it.  If someone is lost out on the plains in the dark, they will see that hazy glow of Bismarck from over 50 miles away.

That’s what Jesus is saying about us.  In his sermon, he makes the illustrations that we are lights in a dark place.  If lights are in a dark place they will make it brighter.  You are just like Bismarck at night.  People who are lost in the darkness of unbelief, people who are growing senseless to their surroundings should see your light and it will show them where to go.

So what does that mean for our congregation that is made up of all these lights? It means people should see a place that tries to help.  People should look at Our Saviour’s Lutheran and see a group of people who are equipped to serve their needs.  This is an oasis from the storms of society.  This is a place where the darkness is overcome by Christ’s light.  This is a church where people need to see the gospel light of Jesus.  That’s the main goal.  That’s the purpose for our existence.  That’s what God has made us to be.

When we are salt and light people are going to notice it.  Sometimes, sometimes it might feel like we are the rotting part or the dark part of the world.  Sometimes it might even look like it.  But that’s why Christ came, to remove our rotting sinful flesh with its dark, evil ways.  He has given us a new life filled with the Spirit, a life where we are salt and light to dark and dying world.

You don’t have to be afraid of what might happen.  Jesus has told us that some people might want to stay in the dark because they think they can hide.  Some people might have gotten so comfortable with the stench that they think it’s normal.  But that’s not you.  God has given you a perfect place with him in heaven.  Until we get there, he says that we are salt to bring the cure of Jesus and we are light to shine the light of Christ’s love.

I’d say Jesus’ sermon about salt and light is a pretty good one, because that’s what he made us. So today Jesus is telling you to be who you are.  God grant it.

Amen.

 

THE #BLESSED LIFE

blessed

5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Today, we’re talking about the #blessed life.  So, I did what any 32-year-old pastor would do.  I did little research on Twitter to find out what people are saying.  I searched the hashtag #blessed, and here are some of the examples.

“I bought my first car today… Hard work pays off, no handouts. #blessed”

“got my dream job today!! #blessed”

“Just wrote out a whole tweet about Monday…then realized it was Tuesday. #blessed”

“I want to thank not only God, but also Jesus for letting me not go for cafeteria duty. #blessed”

Linebacker for the Patriots, Dont’a Hightower tweeted this, “No better felling than waking up and knowing you’re headed to Houston #blessed”

“the diner just gave me two extra pieces of bacon for free #blessed”

“Ash and I still look good while drinking beer. #blessed”

“I’m thankful for wine.  You’ve always been there for me… Thank you for never giving up on me.  I love you, wine. #blessed”

Now, hopefully some people are being sarcastic.  But what if some aren’t?  What if people think “blessed” only refers to earthly items and situations that make you happy? What happens if being blessed is only about the physical and material?  Well, then are you blessed or not?

If you don’t have the job that you went to school for and the one you have been waiting patiently for, then you can’t tweet #blessed.  If you don’t have the car you really want in your garage, the clothes that friends have, the tech toys that you see on TV, the happy feelings that others seem to relish, or the meaningful relationship you have been praying for, then is it true that you aren’t living the blessed life?  If you can’t handle some of the situations you’re dealing with right now, does that mean God is not blessing you the way he promises he will?  That seems to be the way America is talking.  Whether it’s people at the office or the ones poking at screens all day, being blessed means that you are happy because of what you have or because your current circumstances are enjoyable.

So, what about you?  How would you define the blessed life? Is it having a lot of earthly blessings that makes you blessed?  Does being blessed mean you are soaking up a bunch of joyful moments lately? Is blessed all about your satisfaction with life?  Or maybe…does #blessed simply mean you are regularly thanking God for everything you have?  Does blessed mean you are happy just because you woke up and God gave you another day on this earth?

If that’s the case, then listening to Jesus start off his Sermon on the Mount might have you scratching your head a little bit.  Because what Jesus says about the blessed life doesn’t necessarily fit in with what Twitter says, and it might not jive with what your own heart is telling you.  Recorded for us in Matthew 5, there are nine different descriptions that really don’t seem to fit current trends about the blessed life.  These might not even be what you would expect Jesus to say. Let’s quickly go over them.

Poor in spirit seems like the opposite of success and happiness.  Someone who is poor in spirit isn’t talking themselves up or referencing a long list of their achievements.  Someone who is poor in spirit isn’t proud of all that they have done this past week.

Those who mourn are dealing with sad news.  They are in the throes of grief.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to say that someone who is morning is enjoying a happy blessed life, does it?  I didn’t see any tweets where people were posting sad news with the hashtag #blessed.

The next person that Jesus calls blessed is the meek.  That’s humble, gentle, considerate, selfless people. Do we really say that people who don’t focus on themselves are blessed?  The meek don’t jostle for the first spot in line.  The meek might miss out on Black Friday deals.  The meek want others to be joyful and successful. But if you are the meek one, how does that help you?  Would Americans in 2017 call that the blessed life?

Jesus then brings up those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  These folks aren’t filling their bellies or their lives with whatever they want whenever they want it.  They are seeking only what the Lord calls good.  They find their happiness in worship, Bible study, devotions, prayer, and serving others.  That means they aren’t putting tons of time and effort into their own personal enjoyment.  Does that have anything to do with earthly blessings and success?

The merciful are compassionate and loving, the way Jesus is.  The merciful don’t neglect what Jesus says, but the cling to his words and follow his example.  The merciful wouldn’t gossip or grumble about bullies, protests, and politicians.  Instead, they would stand on the foundation of God’s Word and show God’s kind of sacrificial love to everyone.

Pure in heart doesn’t even seem possible.  You and I all know what was going on in our heart this week, whether planned or just popping in, and pure is not the word we can use for that.  Who is here among us who can say they have felt no guilt, that their life is free some sin?  That would be zero.

Peacemakers normally have to put up with a lot of stress.  They have to go back and forth in a process of restoring relationships that have been torn apart.  It’s hard work.  It’s true that peacemakers are certainly causing joy when their work pays off.  But I don’t know if it always feels happy and joyous to go through the ugly side of the peacemaking process.

Jesus finishes his list with those who are persecuted in one way or another for their faith.  I don’t know how many would say “Amen” to that.  Along with the mourners, this seems like the people who would in no way have the blessed life.  It’s hard to envision any scenario where persecuted people would be happy, joyful, and successful.

This whole list flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but maybe that tells you something.  Jesus wants us to get a different definition for “blessed.” We don’t need to search it on social media or listen to the news.  We don’t need to look at our contacts, calendars, or careers, not in our homes or at our hobbies.  To find what the blessed life is the hashtags are always going to miss one vitally important concept, eternity.

Jesus starts his Sermon on the Mount with this “blessed” list because he wants your face off the phone and not staring at yourself so much.  Instead, Jesus gets us looking at him for happiness and joyful contentment, no matter what your earthly circumstances might be right now.  That’s what needs to happen for a blessed life.  Look and listen to Jesus.  And what do you think he wants you to have? A nice car? A great career? A big house? Fun friends? A particular set of skills?

Sure.  Jesus wants you to enjoy the life that he has given you here on earth.  BUT! But, don’t you think he cares a little bit more about your eternity?  Don’t you think he wants the source of your happiness to be your Savior and not your stuff or yourself?

Friends, that is the reason why Jesus came to give the blessed life a new meaning for you and me.  Just think, he was living the most glorious life of all as the ruler of heaven and earth.  He needed nothing.  He had perfect glory and perfect control.  And he gave it up to live in human form, which meant he put himself under the laws of the land and under the care of parents. During his life he was poor in spirit. He felt sadness and pain. He was gentle, humble, and meek.  He was not filled with all sorts of good things but was filled with righteousness, even when people hated him for it.  He was patient and compassionate to a degree that no one can compare.  He was pure in thought, word, and deed every second of his life.  He was patient and kind, never giving in to gossip, grudges or grumblings.  He was persecuted, insulted, betrayed, falsely accused, beaten and killed.

His life means you and I have the blessed life, because only Jesus’ life gives us what we need forever.  Look again at that list, paying specific attention to the second half of each verse.  Only Jesus’ life produces a place in the kingdom of heaven.  Only Jesus’ life comforts those who mourn.  Only Jesus’ life gives humble, gentle people power in our world.  Only Jesus’ life fills us up with righteousness.  Only Jesus’ life gives us forgiveness for every one of your sins and the compassion to show that kind of love to others.  Only Jesus’ life gets rid of the guilt, replacing it with pure heart that will see God in heaven. Only Jesus’ life gives us a new title of God’s child.  Only Jesus’ life gives joy to the persecuted.  Only Jesus’ life takes away the sting of death.  Only Jesus’ life gives us the eternal blessed life.

Talk about the blessed life!  If I told you I can promise you a life where there is no trouble or toil, no bullies or Band-Aids, no stress or sadness, no heartaches or headaches, no lusting or lies, no anger or anxiety, wouldn’t you say, “Sounds great! Sign me up! That’s the blessed life for sure!”  That’s what Jesus has accomplished for us.

For people who believe in Jesus there is an eternity of blessings in heaven waiting for you.  It won’t be because of what you will have but who you are with, Jesus.  By faith, we are also with Jesus now.  So that means we can live the blessed life now, as well.  And what does that look like? Twitter doesn’t have the answer.  Actually, Jesus has a pretty good glimpse for us right here.  You are living the blessed life when you are poor in spirit, trusting Jesus’ sacrifice and not your own. You are living the blessed life even in sadness because your comfort is rock solid in God’s Word and not the things of this world.  You are living the blessed life when you are humble and gentle, not getting dragged into useless arguments or getting caught in political rants.  You are living the blessed life when you are filled regularly by God’s Word and sacrament.  You are living the blessed life when you are compassionate and forgiving just like Christ, looking for ways to love and not hate.  You are living the blessed life when you are the pure, who live a life of faith in Jesus, fleeing from temptation and selfishness.  You are living the blessed life when you’re the peaceful and helpful.  You are living the blessed life when you wear your faith on your sleeve and take whatever happens because you know you have a Savior watching over you.  You are living the blessed life every day with Jesus.

And he says you can rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. No one can dampen that eternal joy. Nothing can take that away. What can I say; it’s the blessed life.

Amen.

WHICH LAMB MAKES A DIFFERENCE

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John 1:29-42a

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

 

It’s the kind of blood and gore you see in a movie or heinous crime scene.  It’s the kind of thing that PETA would protest, for sure.  I’m talking about worship for God’s people in the Old Testament.  Every day, in the morning and evening, one lamb was slaughtered as a sacrifice to God.  That means every year over 700 lambs were killed just as a part of their daily routine. But that wasn’t all.  Lambs were also sacrificed for every fellowship offering, every sin offering, every guilt offering, and every Passover.  The sight of all that slaughter, the sound of it, the smell of it – it’s kind of shocking.  Just trying to make a guess is difficult, but every year thousands of lambs were killed as sacrifices.  Multiply that by more than 1400 years from the time God made those rules for Jewish worship up to the time of John and Jesus and that means maybe 3 million lambs that were killed in Israel.

Did God hate lambs?  Did he like the smell of lamb chops?  What did all this sacrificing accomplish?  Well, think of it this way: it’s kind of like a walk through Arlington National cemetery.  I’ve been there twice.  Whenever you walk around, you see row after row, section after section of white grave markers and you can’t help but think of all the lives that were given so that I could enjoy a pretty peaceful and free life in America.  It’s a very visible reminder of the sacrifices that keep us free.

With all those sacrificial lambs, God was sending a very similar message to his people of Israel.  It wasn’t about their freedom as a nation.  God wasn’t showing his people how to earn blessings.  With every one of those lambs, God was painting a bloody picture of what sin causes.  Sin always causes death.  If you want to know what’s wrong in the world nowadays, there’s your simple and God-given answer.  Sin is wrong with this world.  And some must be dealt with.  Every sacrificial lamb was God’s honest way of saying that sin must be paid for.  But as I said, all the blood from those innocent lambs was just painting a picture.  A simple year-old lamb cannot pay for my sin.  That has never been possible and never will be.  Before the judgement throne of our holy God, the blood of any animal cannot count for us.

For so many people in Israel, they thought that was how it worked.  They thought those religious practices and sacrifices were keeping them in God’s family.  Being acceptable in God’s eyes was all about following the rules that were given back at the time of Moses.  So if all those lambs needed to die to keep God happy, then that’s what they were going to do.  For so many of the Jews around this time, life with God was all about what they were doing and how they were living.

Is that still going on today?  We don’t bring lambs to worship services.  We don’t slaughter animals.  But sometimes without even realizing it, we might be making a case for that kind of religious life.  We aren’t raising lambs for the slaughter, but we can act as if our sacrifices are most important for a life with God.

Do you know how that happens? It can be pretty subtle, but I’m sure you have done it before.  It can happen on Sunday morning.  You could get an hour or two more of sleep, but you don’t.  You could have a lazy morning and a big brunch, but you don’t. You show up here.  That’s what God wants, right?  So, you do it because that is just what you have to do to be in God’s family.  It makes him happy.

And you bring an offering with you, too.  No, it’s not a lamb but money.  It’s something you are giving up for yourself so that God can use it to take care of his church and others.  It’s not easy, but you do it because you know God wants you to do it.  It’s just part of being his child.

It’s true that those are sacrifices that God’s children will make.  But if we think these kinds of sacrifices are going to make a difference for our eternity, then we are falling into the same trap as all those Israelites.  We are thinking our sacrifices are the important part of our spiritual and eternal life.

There are plenty more ways how this happens.  It can happen at work.  You try hard to do your best.  You go in early sometimes or stay late.  You try not to get involved with the office gossip.  You put up with a couple coworkers who are not the easiest to handle. You may even invite a few to church.  It’s not always the easiest thing to be a Christian at work, but you try.  It’s a sacrifice, and you do it because you know how God wants you to let your light shine at work.

This happens at home, too.  You try to fulfill your God-given roles as a parent, a spouse, a child, or what have you.  You try to be patient, loving, humble, careful, selfless, and all that because your light doesn’t just shine at work, but it also shines when you are in the privacy of your own home.  God still expects you to be his child in private as well as in public.  Maybe it’s easier at home or harder, but you do it because you are a child of God.  That’s just how it has to be.

This kind of thinking enters our minds pretty regularly, because being a child of God is not an on and off thing.  Either it’s on or it’s off.  You can’t have it both ways.  And so you make the effort, the sacrifices, to live this way because God tells you to do it.  And you had better do it his way.  Because that’s what is most important, right?

Well, there’s a couple problems with that.  No, the problem is not with any of those sacrifices you make as a child of God.  God’s law is a good thing, and following his laws is a good thing.  The problem starts not with him but with me.  How can my sacrifices ever be perfect?  I’m tainted by sin.  Everything in this world is tainted by sin.  And if I’m not perfect and my sacrifices aren’t perfect, then how can a perfect God ever accept them?

Lamb after slaughtered lamb, Israelites thought that their religiousness would somehow help them with the Lord.  But it was just a picture, a reminder, of what sin causes and how God would deal with it. When the focus becomes my actions, my attitude, my life…my sacrifices for the Lord, then it starts to drift from the Lord.  His promises get fuzzy.  His grace starts to fade into the distance and everything depends on what I do.

Stuck in that system of religion, the sacrifices can never stop.  And in a figurative way, the lambs will continue to shed their blood.  For us, instead of blood, it’s a dollar here or there.  It’s an hour today, tomorrow, or next week. It’s extra car rides.  It’s running here and running there.  That becomes the new sacrificial system that takes control, that makes me feel like a child of God.  I will still try to make up for what I have done wrong.  I will still think that my actions and attitudes can change God’s view of me.  I will continue to carry out everything in my life with the focus on me. And the figurative blood of all of these sacrifices will never take away my sin.  Because the blood of an animal cannot cleanse each spot and stain in my life.

Only God can cleanse me.  Only the Lord of heaven and earth can create a new heart in me.  Only God forgives every one of my sins.  Only God removes them from my eternal record and forgets that they were even there to begin with.  Only the eternal Lord can open the door to his home in heaven.  I cannot – even with my most fervent and determined obedience and service – I cannot shed the blood that is necessary for salvation.

So, do you know what God did?  God became the Lamb.  John points to Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  Now, his blood is different.  This is the blood of the God who created all things.  He made the lamb.  He made the blood that flowed.  He made the sacrificial laws for Israel.  And he promised that those sacrifices would never pay, but his blood would. This is the blood of the God who left heaven and to be born in a stall.  This is the blood of the God whose first guest were those who watch over lambs and sheep.  This one sacrifice is the only one I need, because the blood of Jesus purifies me from all sin.  The perfect blood of Jesus is spilled because God loves you that much.  He’s the sacrifice, the only sacrifice that could pay the debt I owe.  God knew that the blood of those lambs in Israel was just a picture, so he promised and sent the one Lamb who could actually pay for you and for me.

No wonder, John made such a big deal about him. “LOOK!” He says it so anyone there and anyone who has these words of God could hear.  He says it the next day to some of his students, because he knows we don’t need to be students of a man, even if that is a great man like John, to be saved.  We need the blood of God’s perfect Lamb.  We need Jesus’ sacrifice.

And do you notice that this Lamb makes a huge difference? Jesus is the only way our sacrifices can be acceptable.  Only with God’s perfect Lamb as the payment for my sin can I offer what is pleasing to God.  Only with his blood can I be purified to live as God’s child.

That made the difference for those men who left John behind and followed Jesus.  And how about Andrew? He couldn’t keep it to himself; he had to go find his brother.  And it doesn’t seem like the reason was that he thought that was a necessary sacrifice to make.  The focus wasn’t on him.  The focus was on the Lamb of God.  Andrew needed Peter to have that Lamb, too.  So he brought Peter to Jesus.

Do you think there are still some Andrews and Peters out there?  Are there still people who are seeing God’s Lamb?  Of course.  Are there still people who need a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a coworker, or a pastor to bring them Jesus, to show them that the one sacrifice has already been made?  You bet!  Just think back to the WELS Connection video.  There are some places that don’t have a pastor.  There are some places that don’t have churches.  There are some places that don’t even have Bibles in good supply.  Can you be the difference? I think so.  See, Andrew wasn’t trained.  What made him such a great option to go to Peter was that he had seen God’s Lamb and Peter was his brother.  What makes you a good candidate to be an Andrew is not your skill or personality.  It’s not your supreme sacrifices.  What makes you a good candidate is that you have God’s Lamb and some people who know you.  That’s all it takes. We are a congregation full of Andrews simply because this Lamb is just that good.

The lamb makes a difference, wouldn’t you agree?  If we are going to continue to make our own sacrifices, our lambs will never work.  If we look to the Lamb of God, then we see the one sacrifice God made for us.  And life will never be the same again.

Amen.