WHAT IS LIFE LIKE IN THE EASTER VICTORY PARADE?

5.21.17 Easter 6A

Easter Season A

1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

 

The victory parade of Jesus defeating death still continues.  Whatever happened to you this week or last, whatever health trouble, work trouble, relationship trouble, financial trouble, or emotional trouble you have been dealing with does not diminish the truth of the gospel, that good news that says Jesus saves you.  No matter what has been ailing you spiritually, physically, or emotionally, you have a God who loves you to the point where he would let himself be arrested, tortured, and murdered so that you would not have to face the punishment for your sins.  And this God conquered death so that you get to talk about heaven as your very real, very certain, very perfect, very eternal home.  That is God’s love for you.

Let that sink in… God loves me to death, literally to hell, and then back again.  You know, that really works for me. I like that a lot.  Nothing can separate God’s love from me.  With my sin, I put unnecessary and unhelpful distance between God and myself.  I might ignore him at times.  I do things I shouldn’t, but God will still love me and want me to live with him forever.  He will still work through his Word to call me, to shatter my stony heart, to waken me from slumber, to turn my darkness to light.  He will still be the God who died for me and rose again.

Do you know what that’s called?  When someone does not base their love for me on my performance but loves me simply because they want to, that’s called grace.  And with God’s grace there’s no fine print.  There’s no obligations.  There is nothing that can change that kind of love called grace, because it’s not about me and who I am and what I do, it’s about God and who he is and what he does.

Like I said, that works for me.  God has a personal knowledge of me.  He has a personal way of dealing with me.  I’m not just a name on a long list.  I’m not just a number.  As Luther put it, “God has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts.  Sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”   That’s a good thing for me to cherish when I feel weary and burdened.  That’s a good thing for me to hold onto when I feel alone.

But sometimes I’m selfish and I take it too far.  You do, too. I like that God knows me and loves me, but I can put too much attention on me.  I like that God is on my side, and in this self-obsessed, ego-infatuated, me-myself-and-I world, I put the focus on this relationship between God and me, failing to enjoy the fact that God has this kind of relationship with others, too.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s a key word at the end.  Yes, I have a personal relationship with my Savior.  He brought me to faith and I now stand with him and will live with him forever.  But it’s not just me and him.  That pronoun is a first person pronoun, but’s it’s plural.  It’s “us!” That means Jesus loves more than me.

For the selfish heart that stubbornly says, “My faith is between me and God,” the fact is faith in Jesus connects us into a family.  Did you catch that in this letter John wrote.   John says “brothers and sisters” and “dear children.”  God’s grace called us by the gospel of Jesus Christ into his family.  That means there are others.  And these others are not foreign or strange.  They are family.  They were bought with the same blood of Christ.  They were baptized into the name of the same Triune God.  They were called, enlightened, and sanctified by the same Spirit.  They are built on the same solid foundation of God’s truth.  These fellow believers enjoy the same message of law and gospel.  They have the same eternal home waiting for them.  That lasts a lot longer than the family relationships we have on earth.

How does this family operate?  Is it a smile and a nod once in a while at church?  Is that how family works?  Is it nice words?  Some small talk with coffee and doughnuts?  A congratulations at a baptism?  A birthday greeting on facebook?  That just doesn’t sound like the way a family works, does it?

John says, “we should love one another.”  What exactly is the definition of love John is using?  Is it attraction, like a teenager trying to get a date for prom?  Is it a positive feelings for someone, like waving to your neighbors across the street?  Is it familiarity from spending a lot of time together, like a son mimicking his father?  Is that what love is?  That is not even close to the way God is using it here.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s how God loves people.  He shows his love in actions.  He shows love by doing such amazing things for people who do not deserve it.  He sacrifices himself.  That is love.  That is the love that exists in the family of God, as John continues, And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 

Love is being willing to lay aside your preferences, your opinions, your goals, your time, your energy, even your whole being for someone else.  Love is not just saying they matter more, but showing it.  And this section is not addressed to spouses – although it certainly applies – it is addressed to those within the family of God.

But families don’t always get along, do they?  They don’t always have this kind of love.  In fact, in a family it can get downright nasty.  Did you hear that example of Cain and Abel?  Cain didn’t have the right attitude toward God or toward his brother.  Maybe he thought he could keep it hidden from Abel.  But God saw it all clearly.

God still sees it clearly.  He sees when it’s not just a busy schedule that separates his people, but careless selfishness.  He sees when it’s just the lips moving and the heart is ice cold.  What is happening to God’s family, when brothers and sisters cannot love one another with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?  We are just like Cain.  We are self-obsessed.  We are ignorant and arrogant.  We are killing love.

Do you know what that is called when you kill love with hatred, with jealousy, with slander, with gossip… It’s called murder.  And if there is one thing this world loves, it’s hate.  Hatred toward people who lean politically.  Hatred toward people of different creeds.  Hatred toward different races and ethnicities.  It’s killing us.  It’s killing our world and it works its way among even God’s people.

And so into our world of hate, the love of God pierced the darkness.  It began with a promise to Cain’s parents, that hatred would not cut God off from his people, but God would put the hatred between his people and Satan (enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers).  The love of God shined brightly the night Jesus entered our world.  Angels sang of peace between God and men.  The love of God walked the earth, willing to show kindness and goodness to all, even the enemies who hated him.  The love of God allowed those enemies to kill Jesus, so that we would know what God’s love does for us.  But the love of God did not end in death.  Jesus passed from death to life.  He would not let hate ruin his kingdom.  With love, his death brought forgiveness and peace.  He would not let his people be ruled by evil and sin.  With love, Jesus destroyed sin, death, and hell.

I have a new life in Christ and so do you.  We have this life where there is peace with God and each other, a life where Christ lives in us through faith, a life where hatred does not control us, a life where I look for ways to show the love of God to my brothers and sisters the way God showed his love to me.

There is a world of people just like Cain, who cannot understand this sort of thing.  It’s foreign, nonsense. They don’t know Christ or care about him so how can they have his love in their hearts?  Instead, they serve themselves.  They hate any opposing view that does not fit their own.

Brothers and sisters, that is not us.  We are not ruled by what we hate.  We are ruled by the love of God.  We are so saturated with it, that we cannot possibly keep it in.  God’s love will never just be a me and God thing.  It will always be a God and us thing.  It will always be giving up what I want because God gave himself up for me.  I will put the needs of others first.

This love that flows from God through us will be visible.  It will be visible in this family of believers here.  It will be visible like good fruit is visible on a tree.  People will see your joy that exists not because everything in life is going smoothly, but because sins are forgiven and life in heaven is yours.  People will see your kindness, that isn’t looking for a reward but desires to help others in need.  People will see your faithfulness, that even though we live in fickle times, the risen Lord keeps us steadfast.  These brothers and sisters will see it and rejoice that God’s love can do such things.

That’s gospel ministry.  That’s the life we have in this victory parade.  Love is what defines us, God’s undying love that called us out of the darkness of hate and brought us into the light of life.  As Christ has love you, now you love one another. God grant it.  Amen.

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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.