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.

 

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THE ASCENDED JESUS HAS A WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM FOR US

5.28.17 AscensionA

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(image from paramentics.com)

 

THE FESTIVAL OF THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD

Luke 24:44-53

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

 

They saw something so significant, and this was too important to keep to themselves.  That’s what a witness is and that is what a witness does.

Normally a key witness with inside information is very valuable. Their testimony is essential in gathering evidence that can help in a trial or an investigation.  Our government has a way of taking care of people who have this valuable information.  It’s called the witness protection program.  If the testimony is significant, then the witness will be protected.  It gets pretty intense, too! Witnesses are given new identities, free housing, job training and employment, medical benefits, and round the clock surveillance all because their information is that valuable.   They need to be kept safe or else their testimony will be lost.

But here we are today seeing Jesus leave his followers.  The conqueror of death, left his witnesses in a situation where there were plenty of people who wanted them dead.  Does that sound like a good witness protection program? Should Ascension really be one of the big festivals of the church?

Don’t get me wrong, going away parties can be fun.  You get to remember the good times and share stories.  And Jesus certainly has provided us with plenty of good times.  He gives us quite a brief summary this morning: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.”

Over the past 6 months we seen it all.  Jesus carried out everything in the plan of salvation to save us from sin and death.  Think back to when we were getting pounded by blizzards.  Think of the message that God shared with the world: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 

Do you remember the Magi, Jesus baptized in the Jordan River, his glory on the mount of Transfiguration?  Do you remember the next mountain, one just outside of Jerusalem, called Calvary?  Do you remember how he knew exactly what would happen in Jerusalem, but he rode the donkey because he is the kind of humble king who comes to save us?  Do you remember the miraculous meal he gave his disciples (and us)?  Do you remember what we were doing here about six weeks ago? The Son of God let a bunch of cruel soldiers nail him to a piece of wood like he was a criminal.

But’s that not where the journey ended.  Because just a little over a month ago, 170 people gathered in this sanctuary for the best day of the year to hear that Jesus came back from death.  The women led us out to Jesus’ empty tomb to marvel again at the complete and total triumph that he won for us. We are free from sin, free from death, free from the devil.  We witnessed it all over the past 6 months. God has made us witnesses ever since he planted this saving faith in our hearts. We saw the greatest person who ever lived and the greatest victory parade that has ever taken place.  And it was all for us.

But then reality might be sinking in just a little bit today.  It normally does at a going away party.  You remember the good times, but then… you have to say goodbye.  We all witnessed Jesus come and now we are all standing there with the disciples as he says goodbye.

So, why are we celebrating?  You might wonder how could the disciples worship him and return to Jerusalem with great joy?  Are we really supposed to be happy that our Savior is gone? I think sometimes it can feel a little bit like we are witnesses of these things, but that we are now left all alone to fend for ourselves in a world that wants nothing to do with steadfast Bible-based Christianity.  The protection for us witnesses does not seem to be working out too well.

I mean, where is Jesus when I need him?  Where is he when people start asking questions about my faith in him, my priorities, or my church?  Where is Jesus when I have really hard questions?  Where is Jesus when times are tough? Where is Jesus when loved ones are getting sick or hurt or even dying?  Where is Jesus when there is struggle and strife between his followers?

It can be hard to be a witness when this program seems to be failing.  When I feel like I’m all alone in the fight against sin and the devil, I can easily give in.  It can be hard to be zealous when I just don’t know what to say or when to say it.  It can be hard to speak with joy and confidence when I think no one is going to back me up.  It just might not sound like the greatest witness protection program for Jesus to up and leave his witnesses all alone.

But before we complain that life is too hard, before we start to blame God when things don’t work, before we start thinking there really isn’t much protection for us, maybe we should take a step back and view the situation as Jesus sees it.  Think of his view from heaven.  Can you see any enemies that Jesus still has to conquer?  Can you find any of Jesus’ witnesses who are working in a place that Jesus cannot protect them?  There is a reason Jesus left this earth and went back up to his throne.

Remember what Jesus said: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  2000 years ago, Jesus ascended because he had finished the job he came to do. He fulfilled every word that God had promised.  Christ conquered all of our enemies once for all.  Our sins were destroyed forever on the cross.  Death was defeated by an empty tomb.  Hell was overthrown by a perfect King who is now preparing our home in heaven.  The devil can prowl around all he wants, but his head has already been crushed.  He’s all bark and no bite.  His only weapon is trying to tell lies, but we have The Truth on our side.

The world cannot hold us confined to run around in an endless maze of disappointments.  Jesus tells us to take heart because he has overcome the world.  And Paul reminds us our citizenship is in heaven; this world is just a motel. The sinful nature that lives inside each of us has been drowned in Baptism and is fighting a hopeless battle against the Holy Spirit who called us out of darkness into the light of life.  This is the day we celebrate the coronation of the Prince of Peace to his rightful place on heaven’s throne because he had completed all his work.  He didn’t leave anything undone.

The next time you feel like you are all alone, the next time you feel like you are hopelessly fighting a losing battle against sin, and the next time you lack confidence to stand up for your faith in Jesus, take a look around.  Do you see Jesus anywhere?  No.  You would if you were still lost in your sins.  You would if your home in heaven wasn’t already paid for in full. Your King has not left any battles for you to fight on your own.  Your King has not left any enemies that can crush you.  Your King has provided the full proof witness protection program when he died for all sins, rose from the dead, and kept his promise to clothe his witnesses with the Holy Spirit.

How this witness protection program still continues to work is quite astonishing when you think about it.  Jesus commissioned a few fisherman, a tax collector, a former Pharisee and just a couple others to be witnesses.  None of them were the religious nobility.  None of them were trained public speakers.  Not one of them had anything more than you do.  They had God’s Word and the Lord said they were his protected witnesses. The group started joyously in Jerusalem and the good news spread.  The Spirit brought a few thousand more to faith.  They joyously joined in the mission work.  Some of the apostles were killed, but the news still spread even more because death cannot hold back Jesus.  Some groups tried to change the message just a little bit here and there, to make it more sensible, logical, more human, but their heresies were exposed and the truth of Jesus still spread in this world like wildfire.

Jesus sat on his throne and empowered his small group of followers to boldly witness about him to all nations.  They didn’t know when or where or how Jesus would send the Spirit to bring more people to faith, but they knew it would happen… if they went and witnessed.  And so, the gospel of Jesus spread to Greece and Rome and Spain and Asia and Africa and Europe and then eventually the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus came over to America.

Jesus protected his witnesses all the way, so that at some point his grace also found you and found me. His witness protection program really works.  He gives each of us new identities as God’s children.  He gives us a free and eternal home in heaven.  He gives us on-the-job training through his word to do his work. And he watches over us every minute from heaven.

You see, that’s what ascension started.  That’s how our King works.  Jesus uses fisherman, lawyers, farmers, doctors, seamstresses, soldiers, cooks and clerks to be his witnesses.  He uses mothers and uncles and cousins and grandchildren and neighbors.  He uses you and me.  He uses things like a Bible and Baptism to change lives forever.  It’s a witness protection program that seems so simple and we could even say weak, but it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.  It’s always about the power of King Jesus.

Part of Jesus’ witness protection program that he provides are those who preach and teach and lead the mission work.  Jesus is still watching over his church, by sending pastors and teachers to spread this good news.

Jesus provides the workers, but do you know where he gets them from?  Do pastors and teachers just appear out of thin air?  The answer is no.  When I was born did I have a big sign on my forehead so that my parents would know that I would end up as your pastor at Our Saviour’s?  Again, no.  Then, how does Jesus keep his witness protection program going?  How does he find servants for the ministry of the gospel?

Jesus uses fisherman, lawyers, farmers, doctors, seamstress, soldiers, cooks and clerks.  Jesus uses mothers and uncles and cousins and grandchildren and neighbors.  Jesus gets pastors and teachers from all walks of life to lead the work.  You see, it’s a cycle.  Jesus continues to use us in his ways as his witnesses.  And when you’re a witness, you tell what you see.

That’s what I get to do on a full-time basis.  It’s literally the best life on earth. To serve the Lord as a witness and to preach and teach and encourage other witnesses is a privilege and honor.  To be a part of this victory parade is humbling and exciting and difficult and awesome and heart-wrenching and inspiring.

Jesus began this witness protection program when he ascended and it is still going strong, because he is in charge.  Can you be a witness?  You already are, because when he spoke his name over you, God brought you into the program.  Can your children or grandchildren be full-time witnesses in ministry as pastors and teachers? That’s kind of how it works.  Jesus made it this way, and I think he knows what he is doing, don’t you?

Look what it did to the disciples.  They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.  That’s what the Ascension does. It shows us our King who is ruling all things for us.  It shows us his death-defying power that saves us forever.  It shows us the home that we have with him.  It shows us that we are witnesses of it all.

God grant it.  Amen.