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.

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5 LESSONS ABOUT OUR MISSION

7.15.18 Pentecost 8B

 

Pentecost B

Mark 6:6b-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

 

 

Well, our Summer Growth series is almost done.  What have you learned?  What has made an impact on you?  What has helped you grow? It’s good to do a spiritual inventory every once in a while to honestly analyze what areas are strong and what areas need some help.  A key there is to be honest.  There might be some things that you need a little more work than others

For example, you might not struggle with the fact that worship is absolutely essential.  You might realize that what happens here is the same thing a hospital does for someone with cancer.  This is God, the master of body and soul, cutting out what is bad with his law and healing what is sick with the gospel.  This is necessary for the health of your spirit, and so you make church attendance a priority that nothing can top.  Good, that’s a strong spot for your faith.  It’s not something to be boastful about; it’s something to thank God for.

But maybe when it comes to worry and fear, you wither and wilt. You just can’t help pondering over the problems at work or deliberating the difficulties of some relationships.  You are afraid of the future for your kids, you are afraid of rejection, you are afraid of death, and the fears continue to pile up.  It’s like what Jesus said to his disciples when he calmed the storm, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  Jesus was not questioning if they believed in him as the Messiah, the Son of God to save them from sin.  Jesus was telling them that some of their fears were clouding out God’s promise to protect them from danger.  So, that’s an area that needs some growth.  Repent for the lack of faith.  See Christ’s loving forgiveness.  And then study up on some of those powerful promises in Scripture, because that is what the Holy Spirit will use as miracle grow for your faith.

We all have areas where we need God’s Word to keep us strong and healthy and then we also have areas where we need God’s Word to strengthen our weaknesses and grow our faith.  I think today’s Gospel brings up an area where we can all use some growth.  It’s the great privilege and purpose that God has bestowed on his people.  It’s the reason why a congregation was started here back in the early summer of 1960 as an offshoot of Redeemer in Mandan. It’s the specific effort of all God’s people to reach others with this life-saving gospel message of forgiveness through Christ.  It’s our mission.  This area that needs some strengthening is called evangelism.

Today, Jesus gives us 5 lessons about our mission that can help us grow in this important work we do together.

Calling the Twelve to him, he… gave them authority over impure spirits.”

Lesson 1 – Jesus calls us and gives us his authority

It is a very little detail, but I think it’s a powerful one.  Notice how this mission work started for the disciples.  It wasn’t 12 friends who had this bright idea that they should go out preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus.  It wasn’t these highly educated religious scholars who wanted to impart their vast wisdom on people.  It wasn’t specifically trained men with titles like pastor, staff minister or teacher. This is a group of people who were called together by Jesus.

That’s all you need to do this mission work.  You need Jesus’ call.  The Son of God in the flesh calls them together for their first mission trip.  It isn’t a big one – they just went to neighboring towns and villages – but it is important work, work that needed special authority.

Jesus not only calls them but then gives them his authority.  That’s what it takes to fend of the devil and all his evil.  It doesn’t take all the best skills and personality traits.  It doesn’t take all the coolest programs and events.  Mission work needs Jesus’ authority over the devil.

You have both of these things.  Did you know that?  You have been called by the Son of God, the Word made flesh, to be his child, to be salt and light in this decaying dark world, to go and make disciples.  Every single Christian is called in this general way to be a part of Christ’s mission.  And you carry with you the authority that does not originate from the wisest philosophies this world has to offer.  It’s not from a diploma that hangs in your office from the best education money can buy.  It comes from the one who came not from this world but from heaven.  His mission was to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.  It was God’s promise that he would crush the devil’s head and that is exactly what Jesus did.  That’s the kind of authority we have in our mission of spreading Jesus to those around us and the whole world.

While every Christian has this call from Christ to carry out his mission in their lives, there are some who have specific calls to specific places to serve Christ and his people.  Paul mentions these types of ministries in the second reading for today.  God’s people need leaders, overseers, or shepherds to help serve and organize their mission efforts.  Right now, there is a great need for them.  We have around 100 churches that don’t have a full-time pastor.  We have even more schools that have to try and piece a unit of teachers together to make sure we can teach the gospel to all the students in our WELS elementary schools and high schools.  Might it be a good time to focus on what is truly important in our nation?  Might it be a good time for you to talk about this with your children and grandchildren?  Might it be a good time to make the sacrifices now, so that God will continue to have instruments to preach and teach his gospel?

Even though we are not worthy of such a calling, Christ desires to use his people to carry out his mission.  Through the church, he calls some to specific places to carry out specific work as pastors and teachers.  Through his Word, he calls all of us and gives us his authority to carry the gospel around with us in our day to day lives.

“Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two…”

Lesson 2 – We don’t need to do it alone.

Jesus never said that you are an island when it comes to mission work.  In fact, so many times throughout Scripture the exact opposite is the case.  Elijah thought he was alone and God said there were seven thousand still on his side.  David felt alone when Saul was trying to kill him, but he still had Jonathan.  Paul went on missionary trips with Barnabas and Luke, and later Silas and Timothy.  Jesus himself gathered these 12 men to be with him.  He also reminds us, “Wherever two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”

Sure, you can go by yourself to invite someone to church or our Bible Basics class.  We could emphasize a mission plan for each one to reach one, but I think Jesus is on to something.  There is strength in numbers.  There is encouragement when you are not alone.  This is not a reason to use the excuse that “someone else will do it” but it is a reminder that Jesus does not call you to a life and mission of solitude.  If you have a spouse or a sibling, you can be a missionary team that tries to seek opportunities to speak about what Jesus has done for you.  If you have a family or group of friends here at church, you can pray for each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable in the mission work we do together.  If you haven’t found anyone to partner up with yet, let me know and I will try to help you find a team.  That way, when you make some mistakes or neglect some opportunities, you can also repent and forgive each other.  This is the beauty of our mission.  Christ never leaves you alone, but he gives you family or friends, a church family, a synod, and the whole Christian Church on earth to keep you going.

“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.  Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

Lesson 3 – God’s people generously support mission work.

We might think that it’s totally different now as a group of Christians tries to carry out the mission Jesus has given us, but it’s really not.  The disciples didn’t take anything except what they were wearing, their staff, and sandals.  God was going to take care of them through the generosity of his people.  Part of what we do to accomplish Christ’s mission is pool our resources together to do the same thing.  We share.  We give.  And we do it generously, willing to give money, food, housing, and whatever else it takes to support Christ’s mission work.  I and my family are extremely grateful for what you do to generously support and care for us.

But my little family is not the only one who benefits.  We generously support Christ’s mission so that we have this place where we gather and invite others to gather with us to hear the Word of the Lord.  We generously support Christ’s mission so that there will be pastors to preach in places like this and teachers to teach in our schools and that there will be pastors and teachers to go to places and people that we cannot across the world. We generously support Christ’s mission so that our church body can train those who want to preach and teach God’s Word at places like Luther Preparatory School, Martin Luther College, and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

This generous support, whether it is your time, your abilities, or your money, is not costing you something. If you are looking at it that way, then look again. Your generous support of Christ’s mission is an investment in your eternity and the eternity of your children, spouse, family, friends, neighbors, and community.  It is seeking Christ first, and he says all the other stuff will be taken care of, as well.   That’s an investment with an eternal impact.

“And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

Lesson 4 – We are not responsible for the results. We simply respond the way Jesus tells us.

I don’t know about you, but I need this reminder a lot, because I can put all sorts of pressure on myself to say the right thing at the right time to the right person.  I can put all sorts of pressure on myself to preach better, teach better, reach out better.  I can put all sorts of pressure on myself that the results of my mission work are up to me.

It’s just not true.  Jesus flat out told the disciples that some might not welcome your invitations or your caring attempt to turn a conversation to spiritual and eternal matters.  Jesus doesn’t say you have to beat yourself up about that.  Jesus doesn’t say that you have to change your approach.  Jesus doesn’t say that you have to go back home with your tail between your legs.  If you are being diligent and faithful with the mission Christ has given you, then you have nothing to do but respond the way Jesus tells us.

Shaking the dust of their feet didn’t mean that disciples now had to hold a grudge against the people who rejected their message.  Shaking the dust of their feet didn’t mean the disciples had to openly drag their name through the mud.  It just meant that Jesus is serious about his Word.  If people don’t want it, then Jesus wants us to give a loving warning that those who don’t want or don’t care much about the gospel of Jesus are outside of his kingdom.  They don’t get to enjoy the eternity that Jesus has won.  They will spend eternity with all the impure spirits of the devil.  They will be the losers in hell forever.

You and I could never be responsible for someone believing or rejecting Jesus.  It is the power of Holy Spirit working through the gospel that calls people to repentance and faith.  It is the stubborn and unrelenting heart of evil that rejects the message of Jesus and his power to save.  It is not the one doing the mission work.

Although, we could certainly be responsible for someone never hearing the gospel of Jesus, never seeing his mission in action, never knowing his peace.  While we can never be responsible for the results of our mission work, we are always responsible for how we respond when Christ sends his people out with work to do.

That leads to the last lesson about our mission.

They went out and preached…

Lesson 5 – Get out there and try it.

There is no awkward dillydallying from the disciples.  There is not one excuse.  There isn’t a timidity that keeps them from doing this work.  There is nothing that stops them.  Why?  Do you ever wonder why?  Why do they just give us the impression that they were Christ’s robots when it comes to doing his mission work?  Every time he sends them out they just go.  Is it because they had the perfect pitch?  Is it because they had the respect and honor from everyone they met?  Is it because they had all the skills?  Not at all.  They had the call from Jesus and his authority.  They had others with whom to go. They had the support of God’s people.  They knew that they were not responsible for the results.  And so they went.

I hope you notice today that everything they had is exactly the same thing that you and I have.  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  And so there’s only one thing left to do: Get out there and try it.

God grant it.  Amen.

SOMETHING TO STAND ON

10.8.17 Week 2

STILL

Nehemiah 8:2-12

2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

 

A man takes a stand.  He sees injustice and abuse that must be corrected, so he protests.  Little by little the protest grows.  Soon political and spiritual leaders are getting involved.  More than a year passes and it still spreads.  One man taking a stand changes the world.

This was going on long before the American flag or National Anthem was even a part of this world.  We’re not talking about NFL players kneeling or a president tweeting.  Nonetheless, this protest that started 500 years ago followed that now familiar pattern.

It was October 31, 1517, when a lone German theologian and university professor in little old Wittenberg took a stand.  He saw injustices and abuses going on inside of the Roman Catholic Church.  The forgiveness of sins was being sold on a piece of paper called an indulgence.  The Pope was clamoring for money and power and was using his religious authority to get it.  Martin Luther started a protest, not by kneeling or tweeting but by nailing 95 theses, statements for debate, to the castle church doors.  Little by little, with the help of a new technology developed by Johann Gutenburg called the movable type printing press, the protest grew.  Political and religious leaders began to take note.  More than a year passed and then in the summer of 1519, Martin Luther squared off with a popular catholic theologian, John Eck, to debate the things Luther stood for.

One took a stand with the church.  That means he had the authority of the church leadership on his side.  He had tradition on his side.  He had the majority on his side.  The other took a stand with  something different.  He had a different, a better authority on his side.  And because of that, he didn’t need the church, the pope, tradition, or the majority on his side.  He had God’s Word, and that was good enough for him.  Because when you have Scripture, you have the power and authority of the eternal and almighty Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And that is all you need.

And so with a brash boldness, this is one of the things Luther said at that debate, “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or council without it.”  Realize that in 1519 nothing could have been more controversial than that statement.  Why was Luther willing to make such a claim?  Scripture and scripture alone makes someone able to take that kind of stand.

A long time before this there was another man who took a stand on God’s Word. We hear about him in the Old Testament reading.  His name was Nehemiah.  He was a Jew employed by the king of Persia as his personal cupbearer.

Nehemiah lived during the period in Israel’s history after the Babylonian captivity.  At this time period God was using the Persian empire to plant the remnant of his people back in Judah.  There were different phases of this restoration project.  First, a group went back to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. That was in the 530s BC. Next, about 60 years later, Ezra, a gifted priest devoted to God’s Word and teaching it, came with another group to help the on going rebuild and to focus on the spiritual restoration.

More then a decade passed and it was Nehemiah’s turn.  Negative reports about the walls of Jerusalem had reached Persia’s capital of Susa where Nehemiah was carrying out his role for the king.  That’s where Nehemiah stood up.  It wasn’t a protest, but this cupbearer goes up before the king and asks him if he could go back and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  A pretty bold move, but that hand of God was with Nehemiah and the king agreed, even providing safe passage and materials for the project.

Although there was a lot of opposition from neighboring nations, Nehemiah just kept standing on the Lord’s promises and power and went about rebuilding the walls until they were completed.  And the Lord blessed his work.  The temple had been rebuilt, and although not as beautiful or as extravagant, it was a constant reminder that God keeps his promises, that they were home, and that worship was central to their life.   The walls of Jerusalem were solid again.  The remnant of Israel was safe in their homeland at last.  It wasn’t a large group.  Nehemiah records the number was over 42,000.  And they did have to share their home with the people who had taken up residence in their absence, but they could handle it because they were back.

It was after Nehemiah completed his work when all the people gathered for a special day, a day when Ezra, the devoted priest from the second trip, and Nehemiah stood up with a few helpers – literally, there was a huge wooden platform built for the occasion.  Ezra and his helpers did not stand up to give a motivational speech about how to take advantage of this second (more like 300th) chance.  They didn’t stand up to hand down Jewish traditions that couldn’t go overlooked anymore.  They read and instructed from the Book of the Law (first five books written by Moses) from sun up to noon.  6 hours!  (Imagine if I would try that today?)   And the people watched and listened attentively as if they were watching their favorite show on TV.

And do you know what happens? The people start weeping.  Ezra and the Levites are in front of all the people standing up with God’s Word, and they all start wailing. This really isn’t all so surprising because God’s Word stands out with his power and authority.  God’s Word stands alone.

You see, the people were now face to face with what God says.  Over in exile and even when this group returned up to this point, they did not have a regular diet of God’s Word.  And do you know what happens to people who don’t have regular contact with God’s Word?  You start coming up with what matters all by yourself.  You start to think, “No one gets to tell me what to do or what to believe.  I’m just going to trust my feelings, I’m going to listen to my instincts, I’m going to rely on my reason, I’m going to build on my experiences. I’m going to do what works for me.”   That was the trap that led Israel to the exile in the first place, and you can still see people fall into it today.  The next time you are in a conversation that involves spiritual matters listen to how many times sentences, even sentences that come out of your own mouth, begin with “I think” “I believe” “I feel” rather than “Scripture says.”

I think this remnant of Israel gives us a pretty good idea of what happens when God’s law intersects with people who like to focus on their own ideas and beliefs.  We cannot stand.  We fall down with tears in our eyes. Because what we think or what we try doesn’t work.  Every single person at that gathering in Jerusalem saw that vividly.  Israel tried their own way.  And where did it get them?  Their home was taken away.  The capital was destroyed.  Even the sacred Temple of God was leveled.  They were exiled foreigners.  They couldn’t do anything about it.  They had to wait for the Persians to overthrow the Babylonians.  They had to wait for permission to go back.  They had to rebuild the temple, the city, its walls, and their homes.  The whole thing was a mess because they didn’t care for what God said.

Now, they were hearing it and it hit them hard.  God’s law has a way of doing that to people.  By nature, we are born with this idea that we have to work hard to get ahead.  It’s not a surprise, then, that people want to trust my feelings, listen to my instincts, rely on my reason.  Because it makes sense to us that those things will lead in the right direction.  It’s not a surprise that a whole bunch of churches and religions have come up with something similar, is it?  By nature, we think we have to earn a reward, we have to earn a relationship, we have to earn a better life.  But the people gathered around Ezra and Nehemiah were realizing it just doesn’t work. God’s law was crushing their ideas of what “I think” what “I believe” or what “I feel.”

I find it really interesting, then, how Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites stand up there in front of all these wailing people and tell them, “Be still, for this is a holy day.  Do not grieve”  Were they just supposed to act like none of it happened?  The generations of disobedience, the annihilation at the hands of foreign powers, the exile, the return to the Promised Land only to find it occupied by others – they were supposed to forget about all of it?  They were just supposed to forget about it all?  Yes!

But how?  Because those words of the law were not man-made traditions or popular ideas.  They were not the commands of an angry judge or a tyrannical emperor. They were the words of the Lord God. The God of power and grace.  The Creator.  The Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The God who delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt.  The God who fought for them against the Egyptian army by walking them through the Red Sea on dry land and leaving all the Egyptian army dead at the bottom of it.  The God who led the conquering tour over all the nations in the Promised Land and gave them this land flowing with milk and honey.  The God who promise deliverance to his people.  The God who loves his people like no one else can.

You see, they could let all the past go, they could dry their tears, their hearts could be still because what they heard that day.  Luther could take a stand because it wasn’t his ideas.  We can still stand on the very same thing today, because it these words are not man-made laws and traditions, but the law of God.  And he doesn’t just give us his law, but also his gospel – faithful promises to fulfill those laws perfectly, to forgive you entirely, and to save you eternally.  This book with its complete fulfillment of all the laws, with its grace and forgiveness, with its Savior sent from heaven to free us from the hell, is  the Word of God.  It is not developed by us, because we know the kinds of things we come up with.  This book is completely unnatural.  It’s something that no one has ever come up with.  And in every generation humanity has proved to be incapable of coming up this kind of thing.

Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites stood up with God’s Word.  Scripture alone stands up and rises above.  It rises above the popular voices and trends in the world around us.  It rises above the man-made traditions and interpretations in the church.  And it stands above the self-centered feelings, reasons and experiences in our own hearts.  That day with all the remnant gathered in Jerusalem, they got a glimpse of how God’s Word stands alone.  Because it showed them their God, his power and authority, his love and forgiveness.

When Luther stood up to what the church was teaching, when Luther stood up at the debate in 1519, he wasn’t standing on his own.  He was standing on the same platform as Ezra and Nehemiah, the authority and power of a God who still speaks.  And so he didn’t budge.  Even though he was declared a heretic and an outlaw really for the rest of his life, he never backed down.  He kept standing on God’s Word.

500 years later, we still stand on that platform.  We stand on the law and gospel.  We stand on the Word of the Lord who rescues his people from sin, death, and the devil.  We stand on the Word of God that wipes away tears and makes our hearts still.  Amen.

GIVE GOD’S GOOD NEWS

Week 12 – 8.27.17

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Matthew 9:35-10:8

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

 

“Dad, I’ve got some good news!  She said ‘Yes!’”  “Great news, Mom! I made the team.” “All that work paid off!  I got the job!  Let’s celebrate!”  “The Brewers won the World Series!  Can you believe it! We are the champions! This is the best news ever!”

Now, this kind of good news is pretty subjective, meaning it’s good as long as you agree with it.  What if you are the parent who doesn’t like the future daughter-in-law?  What if you are the kid that didn’t make the team because that other kid did?  What if you are the one who wanted that job or you are the one dating this woman who has to move to the new job?  What if you aren’t a Brewers fan (how is that even possible?)?  Then, the news isn’t so good, is it?

When we see Jesus today, he is traveling and teaching throughout Palestine.  He is seeing people in need of good news every day.  And what is his good news for these people who were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd? Is Jesus holding rallies protesting hate, spreading love and unity?  Is Jesus promoting better laws and leaders?  Is he providing superior schools and educational resources?   Does he offer affordable health care and top-notch hospitals?    Does Jesus give them all the money and pleasures this world has to offer?  For so many people, this is the good news they are looking for.  Their ears perk up and their eyes widen when Jesus is healing and providing for people.

But is that really Jesus’ good news?  No! Not even close!  He had the kind of news that was good no matter who he was talking to or helping.  He had news that was good for everyone, no matter their color, creed, or country.  He had news that was good for the sick and the healthy, for the religious and non-religious, for the hurting and the happy – it is good news for every single person, ever.

See, this is where the road splits between giving the kind of news that we call good and our topic today – giving the kind of news that God calls good.  See, giving our kind of good news is good as long as you agree with it.  Evangelism is giving God’s good news, his unchangeable, unconditional, and universal good news.

Do you know what his good news is?  I could stand up here and give you the full rundown for hours, but I’ll keep it short.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to be that you will never feel alone.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to remove sicknesses or diseases.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to get rid of bullies.  It’s not enough for God’s good news to be a relationship, a job, a championship for your favorite team.  And it’s not enough for God’s good news to give you ten steps to happiness.

God’s good news is that he came here to earth as Immanuel.  Remember what that names means?  God is with us!  God’s good news is that you are never alone because he came for you.  God’s good news is that Christ removed sin and death from your record and at your baptism, he replaced it with righteousness and life.  God’s good news is that there are no enemies for his children that he has not completely destroyed for eternity.  God’s good news is that Jesus purchased a home in heaven for you and you and you…

But it’s not just for you.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful.”  Our Savior looks out over ripe fields where there are no categories, only souls for whom he shed his blood.  God does not play favorites with this field.  God doesn’t pick spots during all these tense times in politics and society.  God wants all the harvest, all to be saved.  Yes, the racist, the rapist, the liberal, the conservative, the terrorist, the terrorized, the religious, the irreligious, the smart, the simple, the happy, the sad… All are in his harvest field!  He wants all not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are.  He wants all not because we offer him something special, but because he gives us something special.

This good news is the gospel!  And if this good news has come from heaven to our hearts, then what do you do with good news?  “Dad, I’ve got some good news!  Jesus saved me…and you.”  “Great news, Mom!  Jesus brought me into his family… and he’s your brother, too.”  “I was lost, but I have a Savior who searched me out and found me.  He’s looking for more.  Let’s celebrate.”  “He won!  Jesus came back from the dead.  The victory over death is ours!”

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.”  “Ok, I’ll ask him to send someone else!  I don’t know if I’m the right one to share it.  I go to worship. I pray for missionaries and evangelism efforts.  I support with my offerings.  But when it comes to actually speaking the gospel to others, I’m not up for that.”

Or maybe you’re the type that says,  “I don’t know what to say.  If were are talking about accounting, construction, insurance, health care, then I’m fine.  But I don’t know what to say about Jesus.”

Or you are the one that says, “I don’t know who to tell. My parents and kids are believers, my friends are believers, most of my relatives have a church, I think.  My coworkers kind sound religious the way they use God’s name so much.  My neighbors… you know I’m not sure about…”

Or is it possible that you’re the type that puts yourself up on a pedestal looking down on others, “I don’t want to tell them my good news.  When have they ever done anything nice to me?  Why should I care about them?  Besides, I wouldn’t want them in my church, I see them at work or around the neighbor too much the way it is.”

If you fit into any of these groups, join the club. Did you notice the list of Jesus’ disciples? Did he send out religious leaders?  Did he send out wise and persuasive professors?  Did he send out people who were well liked?  NO!  He sent out Peter, the denier; John and James, the proud wanna-be-rulers in God’s kingdom, Matthew, the cheat; Simeon, the anti-government activist, Judas, the betrayer.  He sent out men who were not respected members of the educational community.  Jesus sent out people who had only known him for about 2 years.  As I look around today, I know that you have been with Jesus long enough to know the basics.  You know your sin and you know how Jesus has removed it from you for good.  That’s what makes sinners such good evangelists.  We personally know how God’s good news has changed us.

Do you really think I am a holy man?  Do you think Pastor Wolfe doesn’t sin?  Not a chance! Every single person is in the same harvest field.  I don’t go to people and point out my good life as the good news.  I give God’s good news, “My life would be a wreck if Jesus hadn’t intervened.  Let me tell you what he has done for me and what he will do for you.”

Jesus has answers to all our doubts or excuses.  Jesus tells the disciples to ask God for workers. And do you see the answer to their prayers?  It’s the disciples.  God can make that raggedy band his evangelists, and he can make you speak his good news, too.  If you notice, they went because they had Jesus’ power and authority to speak.

Some of you might still be thinking, “What do I say and who do I say it to?”  Jesus has that figured out for you, too.  “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  That’s the good news.  Jesus came to us and brought his light of life.  Jesus has washed us clean and made us ready for the perfect paradise.  Jesus has empowered us with his Spirit to be witnesses of his saving work.

Now, who do you tell? Listen to what Jesus says, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Jesus wasn’t saying he didn’t want Gentiles in his church. He did plenty of ministry to them, as well.  Not to mention he died for the sins of all people.  This is what Jesus was telling his disciples, “Guys, as you get started with ministry work, go to your family and your friends.  Go to the people who know you, respect you, and who will listen to you.”  Jesus has put those kind of people in your life, the kind of people that you love to spend happy moments with, the kind of people who you share good news with,  the kind of people that might not have a relationship with your pastor (but maybe they could use that), and the kind of people who won’t bite your head off if you want to talk about God’s good news.  And even if they do, you have the kind of love and compassion Christ has put in your heart to handle that situation with humility and strength.

What Jesus is telling you is that if you are not interested in giving his good news to others, than that needs to change.  It needs to change! But if you’re a little nervous or just starting out, you don’t need to go to the mall or grocery store and tap people on the shoulder saying, “Hey do you know the good news?” You don’t need to go to work with a bullhorn and walk through the halls shouting, “Jesus died for you, your sins are forgiven, and heaven is open for you.”  You can go to your family members.  You can go to your friends and neighbors.  But you have to start with them.

Why?  Why do you have to get into the fields?  Why do you have to give God’s good news?  Is it because you have a God breathing murderous threats down on you if you don’t?  Is it because you will lose heaven if you don’t?  I think you know Jesus better than that.  Jesus says, “Freely you have received; freely give.”  Jesus says you have good news and good news is great when others get it.

When you get engaged, you plan a wedding and a wedding dance, because you want to share your joy.  When you make the team you are happy to be one of the guys.  When you get the job, you celebrate with people because that’s what a celebration is, a bunch of people being happy together.

Doesn’t that kind of sound like us when we are hearing God’s good news together?  Evangelism will be a burden if it’s all about trying to avoid God’s punishment.  The news ceases to be good if that is how you see it.  The only way God’s good news gets from your heart to your lips and to someone else’s ears, is with the power and compassion that Christ used to get it into us.  It was all him and it cost you nothing.

Free stuff is great because it’s easy to share.  Do you ever notice that?  If someone drops off a bunch of food, it’s easy to say to your wife, “We should have some people over to help us eat all of this.”  Or is that just me?  God gave you his good news freely so that you can be free with it.

Do you notice what is not a part of evangelism?  Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to each get 10 prospects.  Come to think of it, Jesus didn’t make any demands for results.  Do you know why?  Because the results can never be up to us.  We don’t save people.  Jesus does.  We don’t change hearts.  The Spirit does. We don’t make God’s children.  He does.

We speak good news!  God’s good news is what changed you and me, and that is the only thing that can help make an eternal difference for someone else.  Good news is good if a person agrees with you.  Evangelism is always good, because it’s God’s good news.

You were made for this. God called us out of darkness into his wonderful light so that we will shine for those who are still in darkness.  Jesus made us witnesses who are filled with his love and compassion, filled with his power and authority, filled with his good news.

And now there’s one little piece of good news left.  It’s time for the…Amen.