SPEAKING GOOD NEWS

Walls torn down

Luke 24:13-33

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

 

 

Did you get good news on Tuesday night (midterm Elections)?  That depends, doesn’t it?  Now, we don’t need to get into politics to prove this point.  It could be anything.  It could be sports.  It could be work.  It could be family. It could be this past Friday, opening day for deer gun season.  Did you get good news?  It all depends on what you want, doesn’t it?  That’s the way good news works.  If the outcome or information is what you want or like, then it’s good.  If not, then it’s not good.

But what if that’s not the way it has to be?  What if some news was good no matter who was receiving it?  What if some information was always good because of the one who has provided it?  My brothers and sisters, that is what we have from God in the gospel.  We have the news that is always good no matter who is listening or how they react.  The gospel of Jesus is always good news.

This good news is so good that it is specifically designed by God to be not just something that makes me good, but also something that makes me want to give good news to others.  This is called evangelism, and in our worship series, Walls Torn Down, we are reviewing this beautiful doctrine of the Bible to grow in how we Use the Power of Good News, which tears down the walls of sin, death, and hell.

That all began a few weeks ago in October.  If you remember a few weeks back, we started by hearing from God that to be involved in evangelism you don’t need to have all sorts of skills or a certain personality.  You don’t need to be on the church payroll.  We heard the story Jesus told of a Good Samaritan, and there Jesus teaches us that love is all you need, the selfless, Good Samaritan love that cares for people no matter who they are.  And it just so happens that the kind of love we need is exactly what Jesus did for us and is exactly what Jesus put into our hearts through faith.  The second week we heard God’s Word from the God’s missionary to the Gentiles, Paul.  He told us that when you are a Christian you are going to find ways to be all things to all people.  In other words, we will get comfortable being uncomfortable.  The third week we heard from Paul again about how to turn conversations from common everyday things that everybody knows to the uncommon and unique grace and power of our God and Savior.  Remember how we saw him do that in Athens in the Areopagus?  He used their city and their objects of worship, one of which said “to an unknown god.”  He used their philosophers and poets.  He used those things that the people of Athens knew well to point them to the God of heaven and earth and his salvation through Jesus, who died and rose for us.

That leads us to these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  It’s later on the day Jesus rose, Easter.  They are both followers of Jesus, so for them to be talking with each other about everything that had happened is not all the remarkable.  That would be like you discussing a sermon, a bible class, an outreach event with another member here or maybe encouraging and comforting someone close to you with an illness or a problem they are facing.  Those are the kinds of things that you would be comfortable talking about with a brother or sister in faith.

But what if the audience is different?  Would you be as comfortable talking about everything Jesus has done for us, about the power of God, or about the teachings of the Bible?  Maybe we have to admit that when it comes to God’s good news, we don’t speak up because we think it depends on the audience.  It’s similar to the way we look at elections or sports.  We treat the gospel like it is only good news for those who we see here at church, those who are on our side.

When we do that, we are setting limits on the gospel that God has not set.  We see the two men on the road to Emmaus do the same thing. When this stranger, who is really Jesus, asks them what they are discussing, they give a somber recap of what happened.  Here’s the summary: “He [Jesus] was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;1 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

This should be a joyous, exciting explanation of how Jesus conquered sin and death for all people, but instead it’s downcast and doleful, because they had set limits on God’s promises.  Did you catch that in their response?  See, here is what they thought God’s promised good news was: “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”  These two thought the good news was the revival of the Jewish nation, God’s people, Abraham’s descendants.  They thought God’s promise was the Israelites being delivered from the oppression of the Roman government and restored to ruling the world’s political scene.

Sure, that would be good news for Israelites, what about everyone else?  What about the Romans?  What about Samaritans?  What about Gentiles who would grow up in Europe, Africa, or America.  What about us?  We wouldn’t have any good news from God.

Sadly, sometimes we put up those limits on God’s good news just like these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  The wonderful promises of God, his gospel of salvation for all, the Savior of the entire world is only good news for some.  In essence, that is saying God’s gospel message, his good news is not as good as God thinks it is.  Somehow we convince ourselves that the power of the gospel is not that powerful.  How foolish you and I are to think that the good news of God would ever be so small and insignificant.

But we do, we do talk and act like it is unimpressive, and maybe that’s because we don’t think the bad news is all that bad, either.  I think that happens to us like it was happening to the two men on the road.  They thought the good news was that Jesus was going to redeem Israel and get rid of the Roman rule.  So that means the bad news that was causing their sorrow was that Israel would still be stuck under the hated, oppressive government.

Brothers and sisters, that is not the bad news.  How foolish you and I are to think the bad news could ever be political, economic, financial, educational.  How foolish!  The bad news is not that your team didn’t win.  The bad news is not that you missed a big buck.  The bad news is not that your loved one has cancer, that your family is in shambles, that you lost your job.  That’s not even close too bad enough.

The bad news is sin.  Sin is something God cannot wink at or ignore.   Sin is something we cannot change the definition of.  Sin is so bad that it separates people from God.  Anyone who has ever done any one little thing wrong, even if it was just a thought to do wrong, has completely smashed God’s law to pieces.  Anyone who has smashed God’s law to pieces cannot have a life with God.  Sin is real, and it puts your name on the list of those who are going to the burning lake of sulfur where the worms that eat you do not die, and the fire is not quenched.  We’re talking eternal torture and punishment.  We’re talking the worst imaginable pain and suffering physically, emotionally, psychologically and it lasts forever.  The bad news is that anyone, who is not perfect as God requires you to be, is going to hell.  And this bad news cannot be changed by anyone.  You cannot undo what you have done wrong.  You cannot make up for these sins.  There is simply no other option but to suffer the pain of hell. Period.

That’s bad, isn’t it?  That’s so bad that it’s hard to put into words how bad sin and hell are.  It’s so bad, in fact, that the only fix that would ever work is an act of God.  He’s the only one powerful enough.  He’s the only one loving enough.  He’s the only one who could do anything about it. The only possible way to get rid of the devastating and eternal destruction sin causes to each person is that God would take that suffering and pain away from us and put it on someone else.  Someone else who is powerful enough and loving enough to see sinners in this absolutely perilous condition and step in for us, that’s what it would take to get rid of our bad news.

What would you call it if someone actually did that?  What would you call it if someone saw the entire world full of sinners and decided to step in for us?  What would you call it if someone would suffer the pain and torture our sins have earned?  What would you call it if someone would endure the physical, emotional, psychological hell that is coming for every sinner?  What would you call it if someone would die so innocently so that the guilty ones could benefit?  What would you call it if someone would take our pain and punishment and then give us the perfection God requires of us?  What would you call it if someone who died under the crushing weight of our sins actually came back from the dead?  What would you call it if someone conquered all, we’re talking every single one of our eternal enemies for us?  What would you call it if you didn’t have to be afraid of death, the devil, or hell anymore?  What would you call it if someone would provide all of this free of charge for all sinners, without conditions and without basing it on anything you did or didn’t do?  What would you call it if someone didn’t put limits on the people who can have and enjoy this gift?  What would you call that?  How about THE GOOD NEWS!!!

Yes, good news is exactly what that is.  Good news is exactly what Jesus has produced, accomplished, and provided for us.  It’s so good, in fact, that God gave it a special name called the gospel.  And God gave the gospel special power to work on hearts whenever and wherever it pleases him to change lives on earth and for eternity.

And do you notice what the gospel, what God’s good news, does to those who believe it?  Those two on the road to Emmaus heard the good news from Jesus, they saw their Savior alive, and with hearts burning from the power of the gospel, they immediately wanted to share it.  Luke writes in verse 33: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem…

If you want to know how in the world you could ever tell someone the gospel of Jesus, I think you are looking at it all wrong.  This good news is so good, how could you not?  Amen.

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TURNING YOUR CONVERSATIONS

Walls torn down

Acts 17:16-33

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ r As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council.

 

 

A place where a ton of ideas about God and religion swirl around every day.  A place where idols are all over the place.  A place where some people spend a lot of time browsing through the latest ideas and popular trends.  A place where disputes among the “smart” people rage regularly.  A place where ones preaching about Jesus can get many differing reactions.  A place where people want to know what things mean.  Do you know what place I’m talking about?  Isn’t it obvious? The place is Athens back in the day of the Apostle Paul.

But doesn’t it also sound like it could be another place at another time?  Doesn’t it sound like this could be right near your home, your work, your school.  Absolutely!  This plays out on Facebook and Twitter every day.  It happens at your family get togethers, the grocery store, the weekend games, the mall, and so many others. This kind of thing is what you and I deal with every day here in 2018.

But this world will make it easy and even demand you to ignore it.  I was on the phone this week for over an hour trying to get an issue with my Microsoft Office 365 fixed.  The man on the other line was from India, literally he was talking with me at 11pm from the country of India, in some city I cannot pronounce that has over 12 million people.  His name was Srinivasan (and yes, it took me an embarrassing amount of attempt to get that right).  There was plenty of down time during our conversation because he was on the remote access to my computer uninstalling things and reinstalling others to make sure my Office 365 worked properly.  So, I was nosy and asked him a lot of personal questions, sports, food, schooling, relationship status – all the basics.    But when I got to religion Srinivasan politely answered my question but then told me that religion and politics are not allowed for these calls.

And that has a way of trickling down into our day to day lives, doesn’t it?  If you want to keep your friends, family, coworkers and everybody else happy, then these two highly-debated topics should come up seldom and when they do come up, try to be quick, discrete and considerate.  However, to be safe you should still avoid them at all costs.

If you avoid the topic of religion in your conversations with people that you care about and know well, you can probably guess what will happen in your conversations with people who you don’t know very well or at all.  You won’t be thinking of God’s Word, faith, or church much in those conversations either.  So, if you have regularly avoided the topics of religion, spiritual life, Jesus, and the Bible both with the people you know and those you don’t know in the past, what do you expect will happen now and in the future?  Are you able to just switch it on?

I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense.  Think of a kid who played soccer in middle school but then gives it up besides watching it here and there until he’s 33 and his kids want to learn.  He might be able to show some simple things like where to kick the ball on your foot and how to pass, but he won’t have much skill or experience.  I found this out first hand when we had our Bible soccer camp this past summer.  Sure I can kick a ball, but it might not go where I want it to all the time.  And I didn’t have any kind of footwork or dribbling or receiving skills.  I could play with the kids, but with soccer players my own age I wouldn’t be able to do much at all.

If that’s the way you are going to treat evangelism and sharing the good news of Jesus with others, then don’t expect to be all that comfortable talking about Jesus, about what he has done for you or about what the Bible says on key issues.  If your faith in Jesus is simply a Sunday thing, then what about the rest of the week?  How can you carry out God’s Great Commission for believers to go and make disciples, if you aren’t thinking and talking about Jesus and what he has done regularly?

I’ve done it.  I’ve skipped the chance to talk about my Savior.  I think it’s safe to assume that we all have.  Whether it was nerves, worry, doubt, fear, lack of skill, lack of knowledge, lack of love, it doesn’t matter.  It was wrong.

But I have a feeling that God might give you another chance. That coworker that complains too much might just be at it again on Monday.  That classmate who looks sad and alone will still be at school.  Your waitress if you go out this week might be new in town and trying to figure it all out.  You might run into a cousin who’s got some difficulties and stress building up.  The neighbor who is a little annoying might come by.  Someone who comes for our Trunk-or-Treat event might have some questions.  The chatty dad at swim lessons might pick the seat next to you.  You get the point. There are and will continue to be people around you who are just like the people at the Areopagus or the lady at the well.

It’s not like you have to come out and tell every single person that you run across in a day that Jesus is their Savior from sin and hell.  You could, God bless you, you could.  But I think it’s good to remember who you are when you are out and about with people.  You are a Paul. You are an Ezekiel.  You are a person who, at one point in life whether it was for a couple of days or decades, was against God.  Sin and unbelief are a real part of your past.  You were on the natural born path to hell, but God stepped in to remove your sin through faith in Jesus.  Jesus changed your heart with the power of the gospel in Word and Sacrament.  You were baptized, brought to faith, connected to Jesus and his eternal gift of life.  You were adopted by God into his family.  The Holy Spirit took up residence in your heart.  You were purchased by Jesus.  Faith took root and gave you a new home in heaven and a new outlook in this life.

When God did this for you with the power of the gospel, the faith he planted was not a 1/7 kind of faith.  What I mean is, faith was not planted in your heart so that you could think about it, talk about it, treasure it, confess it, share it only on Sundays.  It was planted there for 7 out of 7 days.  The God-given gift of faith is in your heart to be there for your entire life.

And that faith that God gave you is not the selfish type.  It’s not timid and lazy.  It’s not nervous and weak.  The same power of the gospel that changed your heart is at work to make you look and talk to others the way God looks and talks to you.

So how do you navigate in an environment where there are a ton of ideas about God and religion swirling around?  How can you boldly speak up about Jesus where idols are all over the place?  How can you bring up spiritual matters when they seem to get many differing reactions?

Look what Paul does. (quote a couple things from 22-31)

Paul is a Christian who walks through a city with Christian eyes, seeing that there are obviously some things that aren’t quite in line with God.  And yet, he doesn’t bash their superstitions and idolatry but uses them as a launching pad into evangelism.  He doesn’t say, “Well, you have your beliefs and I have mine.”  No, he uses their popular religious views, the words from their own poets, and the cultural philosophies to point to the truth of God.

Paul saw how people were creating their own ideas of God, distorting and distilling the Lord of heaven and earth down to the size their brains could handle. Instead of walking away from it, Paul uses a very logical progression.  It’s almost like he is saying, “If God is bigger than us and hard to figure out, then why would it work for us to turn God into something smaller than us that we can make?  That doesn’t make sense.  But what does make sense is that the God of everything wants people to believe in him.  And he even rose from the dead to prove how powerful, and how much he cares about you.”  Paul uses simple law that points out idolatry as sin.  Paul uses simple gospel that points to Jesus power over death for us.  He goes from what is common to us to describe what is unique about God.

And he doesn’t worry about the results.  Sure, some sneered at him, but others were interested.  And Paul didn’t let that stop him, because the power of God’s good news works.  We can’t control where and when – that’s up to God – but we can control our use of it.

Brothers and sisters, you can do the very same thing with the Christian eyes, heart, and life that God has given you.  You can see things from the spiritual, eternal perspective. You can use the love God has placed in your heart that is willing to help others.  You can use the Word God has given you in the Bible regularly.  You can speak to others using simple every day examples to turn conversations to what matters most.

So when the weather comes up, you can talk about the creator of the world and all its weather.  When negative news comes up again, you can bring up the one who gets rid of the negativity of sin and death.  When someone is going through a rough patch, you can identify with that, right? And then talk about the one who brings peace and joy.  When a storm rages and destroys some part of the country, you can talk about the only shelter you have from the storms.  When your sports team isn’t doing that great, you can talk about the victory Jesus has won.  And on and on.  Jesus is right there in any conversation because he is right there in your heart.

It doesn’t take a genius to do this.  Paul was no philosopher.  He had the gospel and he had God’s promise.  That’s what you have, too.  Amen.

GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

 

Walls torn down

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Love makes you do some undesirable things.  I thought of an example that fits for parents: change diapers.  You love your baby. You know they need to be clean.  And even though it’s stinky and sometimes you get hit by some not-so-friendly fire, you do it.  But every parent will admit that it gets old.  Sometimes you and your spouse do a rock-paper-scissors best of three to see who has to do the change.  Sometimes you wish the oldest was old enough to do it.  The great thing about changing diapers is that eventually you don’t have to do it anymore; the baby grows up.  Love makes you do some undesirable or uncomfortable things for a while.

But all things, does love make you do all things?  Is that really possible?  I mean, last week we began this evangelism training series by taking a good look at the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan.  Remember that when the love of Christ is in your heart you are built to show love to people just as Christ has shown love to you.  You will help someone when they are in need.  You will give money to those who have been affected by a disaster of some kind.  You will put yourself in a position where you have to sacrifice something for someone else’s benefit.  You will change diapers.  You will.  There’s no question about that.

When the topic is evangelism there is a similar attitude.  Christ has given you his good news.  It’s not just a little piece of your life along with all these other details and descriptions that are more important.  The gospel is the number one biggest and best thing that you have, because in the gospel you have the good news that you are saved by Jesus free and full.  God loves you so much that he decided to make heaven your eternal home because of what Jesus has done for you.  God has made this your good news.

But he has also made this universally good for everyone and God wants all people to be saved, so God wants your good news to be their good news.  You do have people in your family, your group of friends, your neighborhood, your work – there are people who you know who don’t have or don’t care much about this good news.  You can talk about Jesus, religion, faith, church with them.  You can work up the courage to bring it up with a spouse, relative, friend or neighbor.  You can invite them to worship, to take a Bible Basics course together, to meet up with me for a chat sometime.  You can.  And since this good news of the gospel is so good, you have probably tried doing this before.

But the Good Samaritan story is one that Jesus makes up to teach us who we should love and what love does.  From that story we learn that every single person who is not me is my neighbor.  With Christ’s love in my heart, I will be willing to help them.  And with Christ’s love in my heart I will be willing to help them quite a bit.  But the story is only about one specific occasion.  You and I could probably do that kind of Good Samaritan thing one time.  You and I can go out of our way to help someone who needs it once.  We could pay for someone’s meal or groceries once.  We could spring into action if a neighbor kid gets hurt and no one else is around.  We could do a fundraiser for someone in need.  We could give some confused person directions.  We could put some gas in someone’s car.  All sorts of stuff that we could do because we are loved by Jesus and his love is now present in our hearts.

But what if it’s more than once?  What if it becomes a pattern?  When it comes to loving others, what if we have to do it a lot?  When it comes to evangelism, speaking the good news of Jesus, what if we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  This section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians helps us with that.

The Apostle Paul had worked hard among the people of Corinth.  He wanted them to have what he had.  So much, in fact, that he did not even take any kind of payment from them when he first stopped in Corinth on his second missionary trip.  He put himself in that position because serving people was his main goal.  He was also willing to mingle with both Jews and Gentiles because the gospel is for all every single person was worth it.  That wasn’t the normal way to do things back then.

Now, we might look at that and think Paul’s nuts.  Actually, there were plenty of people in Corinth who were trying to convince the members of the congregation that Paul was not only nuts for doing that but also not a true apostle. They were saying something like this: “Paul must not be a real preacher called by God because every preacher should get some kind of payment for his work.  And a real preacher would certainly not be seen with the kind of people we saw Paul with when he was here the last time.”

But Paul answers that by saying, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone…”  Paul says it doesn’t matter who it is, if there are people who could be served in his ministry, then he would do it.  He willingly put himself on the line for their sake.  Paul wanted, in so many various ways, to find common ground with everyone so that he could serve them with what was most important   .

It’s not just a one-time thing like the story of the Good Samaritan.  Paul made it his practice to be in situations that other people might not be comfortable in.  “To the Jews I became like a Jew… to those under the law I became like one under the law…to those not having the law I became like one not having the law…to the weak I became weak…”  Paul was willing to make real changes in how he approached different people, but he never changed who he was.  Paul was a Christian.  That was first and foremost no matter who he met or who he was serving.  He was bought with the blood of Christ and had this same gospel message for others.

So that meant he could be like a Jew for those who were from the Jewish heritage.  Paul was also from that heritage, from the tribe of Benjamin.  He could be like those who still followed all the Old Testament ceremonial laws about eating only kosher food, wearing certain kinds of clothes, observing special festivals.  Even though Christ set us free from all those ceremonials laws by fulfilling them for us perfectly, Paul could set aside that kind of freedom for the Jews and for those who like following those ceremonials laws.  He didn’t do it one time, but he was willing to get comfortable, doing it a lot.

He could also be like Gentiles who didn’t know or care about any of those Old Testament ceremonial laws that were meant for the Jews.  Christ sets us free from those laws that God commanded for Israel in the Old Testament.  Paul knew that he could serve those Gentiles just as well as long as it did not violate God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments.  Paul does make that concession, that we are in the law of Chris to love God with every fiber of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves.  But if there was no sin involved in reaching out to Gentiles Paul was willing to do anything for them.

He could even be seen serving those who were “weak,” They had a weak conscience. They were easily offended by anyone who would dare do something they would not do.  Paul was willing to give up so much of what was perfectly fine for him to do, so that he could find common ground with those who are touchy about everything.

Now, what would make Paul willing to be so uncomfortable, like he always had to change his outlook and his preferences for others, like he was every person’s slave, even though Christ had set him free?  Maybe before we answer that I should ask you the same question.

What would make you willing to get uncomfortable not just once, but to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  Maybe if someone paid you enough?  Like an actor, they have to play some parts that are undesirable, but the payoff makes it all worth it.  Is that what it would be for you?  Or maybe someone really close and special to you?  You could perhaps change some of your preferences and then flip-flop back whenever it was for their benefit, as long as it was not sin, of course.

But Paul says he didn’t accept payment in Corinth.  And when he arrived there he didn’t know any of the people.  So what made him “become all thing to all people”?  That answer is simple for him and just as simple for us.  “so that by all possible means I might save some.”

Paul’s not interested in his own comfort level.  Paul’s not interested in the finances.  Paul’s not interested in his own popularity.  Paul’s not interested in any of that.  What he is interested in is saving people from hell.  But Paul isn’t the one who could do that.  So Paul had to talk about the one who did.  That’s giving the good news of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Think about what Jesus did.  He was not a Jew or Gentile. Jesus is the eternal God; there is no nationality for God.  He was not someone under the law or someone not having the law.  Jesus is the one who invented the law.  He was not weak or strong.  Jesus is omnipotent, that means all-powerful.  And yet Jesus decided to get comfortable in what many would say is uncomfortable.  He came down from heaven to do it all.  He became the servant of all.  He was humble and selfless.  And then he was beaten and killed.  He came to be the good news that sinners don’t have to die and go to hell.  Jesus came to wash sins away and give a new life, free from law, free from guilt, free from the traps of the devil.  He came to be the good news that heaven awaits all who believe in Jesus.

That’s why Paul did what he did.  He was willing to get uncomfortable because the gospel is just that good of news.  Don’t you think that it might happen that there are people who need this good news and they don’t have your lifestyle?  Don’t you think there might happen to be some who have a different nationality than you? Don’t you think it might happen that some look at Jesus in a different way than you?  Don’t you think there might be some who are under the load of the law and some who aren’t?  Don’t you think there might be some who are weak?   Of course!  Do you know what they need?  The Gospel of Jesus.

It just so happens that Jesus has made this good news your very own.  And so he makes it easy for you to see the situation how it really is.  It’s not about how desirable or comfortable a situation is.  It’s not about your feelings or thoughts.  It’s not about you at all.  It’s about him.  Jesus has made you to be the kind of person that wants to serve him by serving others.  Jesus has given you his gospel.  You have a God who forgives you, saves you, gives you a new life, holds you in the palm of his hand, protects you, guides you.  There is nothing better, more comfortable than that.

When it comes to evangelism, we don’t have to be nervous, uneasy, or uncomfortable.  It’s not about me.  It’s about Jesus.  We can be all things to all people because the gospel is just that good.  Amen.

LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

Walls torn down

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

A wrecking ball can do some pretty impressive work.  Where a building once stood, it can make a pile of rubble in a matter of minutes.  It’s destructive.  It’s violent.  It’s powerful.  When a wrecking ball wreaks its havoc on a condemned building or a fire-ravaged property that you remember, it can definitely be sad.  Just imagine if we would see a wrecking ball take down this house.  Imagine what those remaining in the land of Israel felt when they saw the wrecking ball of the Babylonian Army take down God’s holy Temple…devastation, loss, anger.

But if something else is built in its place, well that could be something good.  The condemned building or fire-ravaged property gives way to a new home, a new business, a new store – that is beneficial.  If it would ever happen that this church building would be demolished, that could give way to a new house of God for us to use faithfully for our growing congregation and community for the next 50, 60, 100 years.  The Temple was rebuilt – although not as grand as Solomon’s masterpiece – and the group of people that returned from captivity were once again able to worship God in their homeland, in God’s city, Jerusalem, in God’s holy house.  In that way, a wrecking ball is necessary because it removes something that isn’t helpful and builds something that is.

I think we can look at the gospel of Jesus Christ like that.  The gospel will break and destroy.  It will be a violent shattering of what was once there, a powerful display of what God can do.  That’s the idea you get when you read what God inspired Paul to write in Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”  The gospel is good news that is powerful to tear down a life of selfishness, sin, and unbelief.  The gospel is good news that is powerful to build up a new life of faith in Jesus, hope for eternity, and service to God and our neighbors.  The gospel is good news that is the only power that can get a rotten sinner like you and a rotten sinner like me to heaven.  That is the most powerful thing that there is.

That’s why our new worship series is going to talk about how to use the gospel.  If it is good news, if it is powerful enough to tear down a life of sin and unbelief and build up a new life of faith and service, if it is for us and everyone else, then we should probably use it.

But, you know, not everyone agrees that the gospel is powerful or that this good news of Jesus is the only way to heaven.  From the smartest sociologists and psychologists to the simple bloggers and social media users, from the most religious to those who can’t stand religion, people have a lot of different ideas about what is necessary to get to heaven.

This expert in the law had it figured out.  He wasn’t asking this question like the rich, young ruler from last week.  He was asking to test Jesus and really to discredit him.  See, he had his own answer and considering Luke calls him an expert in the law, you can probably guess what his answer is.  He said the arrow points up.  I have to follow laws to get into heaven.  I have to make my way up.

So when Jesus was patient and gracious with this man, pointing him back into the Bible for the answer, the expert in the law was ready to give him the best summary of the law that there is. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  He gave Jesus the same summary that the Bible gives: Love God, that’s the first table of the law, and love your neighbor, that’s the second table.

It’s easy to give that answer, but when Jesus says, “Do this and you will live,” that’s a little difficult.  If the arrow points up, then I have to love God with everything I am all the time.  If the arrow points up, then I have to love my neighbor, not like, not tolerate, not accept, not avoid, but love my neighbor in the same way that I take care of myself.

If the arrow points up and I have to love perfectly to get into heaven, then I have a problem. Because it doesn’t take me long to look my whole life, even just the last week, to see that I have loved things and people more than my God and I have cared for myself a lot more than the people around me.  I have fallen short of having the love I need to get into heaven, and so have you.

All the laws that this guy was an expert in, all those places where you open you Bible and say, “Oh no! I am not doing that.  I don’t like that.  I can’t do that,” – all these laws God gave us for one reason: to know that we are sinful and that there is no way I can get myself into heaven. Period.  There would have to be someone else, because if I have to follow the laws perfectly and love perfectly then it’s never going to be the eternal outcome I’m looking for.

Brothers and sisters, that’s why God sent us the Redeemer, the one who makes the payment and buys back that condemned property to make something new with it.  God didn’t just forget about the law.  He didn’t just say, “You don’t need to worry about all those commandments I was so serious about before.”  No, Jesus came to fulfill every law for me.  He came to live the way I cannot.  He came to love the way I won’t.  He came to complete everything for me in my place so that I can live with Jesus forever.  This is the good news.

The expert in the law doesn’t want to let Jesus off so easy, and at the same time he doesn’t want to look silly in front of everyone there – I mean, an expert in the law should be able to come up with a harder question than one that has such an easy answer.  So, he says, “Well, the real questions is:  And who is my neighbor?”

To answer Jesus tells a very clear and striking story.  This 17-mile stretch between Jerusalem and Jericho had rocky crevices and ravines out in the desert that provided a great place for robbers to sneak up on defenseless travelers.  And even though the threat of danger was high, it was very familiar and well-traveled because that is the way Jews traveled to avoid going through Samaria.   Samaria and Samaritans were off limits.  They were scum.  Jews didn’t want to associate with them.  That was the worst thing you could call someone in Israel back then.  Jesus picks the perfect setting for this expert and for all of us to consider who my neighbor is and what loving them means.

As the story goes a Jewish man traveling on that road is attacked.  The bandits beat him, strip him, and leave him for dead.  It’s an ugly situation that gets even uglier.  A priest, thank God, a priest, a servant and preacher in the house of the Lord happens to be traveling down that road soon afterward, but he passes by on the other side of the road.  Who cares what the reason is!  You can see his self-centeredness and lack of love.  Another Jew, a Levite – that would be another guy who was coming from work in the Temple, serving the Lord – comes down the road with the exact same kind of self-centeredness and lack of love.

Then, Jesus uses the s-word, Samaritan.  He says a Samaritan comes down the road, and every Jew listening to this story gets a bad taste in their mouths.  The Samaritan, who has no reason to love this Jew and care for him, sees him and has pity on him.  He bandages his wounds.  He puts him on his own donkey.  He takes him to a hotel and cares for him over night.  The next morning, he leaves enough money for this man to stay for almost two months.

The answer to the question “who is my neighbor?”  is so obvious.  But there is another thing that is so obvious about this story.  This is what it is like for us.  This is what it is like to have the gospel, the good news of the Redeemer who saw us broken and left for dead and came to save us.  He took us out of harm’s way.  He healed us and made us new.  He paid for us fully and completely so that there would be nothing left for us to do.   This is what it is like for us who have the good news of Jesus and live with the grace and mercy of God.

In this life that we have from God, as people who have been purchased and cleansed and made new by Christ, as people who have his love not because of what we do but because of what he has done, and as people who know what the amazing power of the gospel does, we are not motivated by guilt or obligation.

Guilt an obligation can only do so much.  Think about the Samaritan.  If he felt obligated to do something, what would it be?  Report the crime.  We think the priest and Levite are monsters for not helping, but obligation would not motivate you to help.  You’d call in the crime.  Maybe you would stop the car and wait for some other help to arrive.  But obligation and guilt would not make you pick this guy up, let him bleed all over your car, take him to the hospital, stay with him over night, and then pay his hospital bill.  Obligation doesn’t have that kind of power.

God’s grace that is poured out into our hearts through the gospel, the powerful good news of Jesus, does.  The good news frees us from obligation and guilt.  The good news fills us with the same kind of love that God has for us.

We don’t follow God’s laws, come to church, give offerings, take care of our family, show kindness to others, speak the good news of Jesus to our friends and neighbors because if we don’t God won’t love us.  That is the arrow pointing up.  That is the sense of obligation to earn God’s love.  Instead, because Jesus fulfilled the law for me, because Jesus forgives all my sins, because he promises heaven for me and all believers, because he has put this good news into my heart, because he has changed my life forever, I want to do what God says.  This changed life I have now oozes with thankfulness where I love God and love my neighbors.

When you see someone who is wrecked and broken by the desires of this world, when you see someone who is beat up and left helpless by the lies of people that teach that the arrow has to go up to get into heaven, when you see someone who is unconscious to the danger they are in and you do nothing you’ve got a problem with self-centeredness and lack of love.  That is not the way God built you with his grace and mercy. His gospel message, the good news of Jesus, is the power that not only puts faith in your heart but also removes self-centeredness and the lack of love from your life.

There are people around you – family member, friends, acquaintances, neighbors – who need this good news.  They don’t need an arrow pointing up.  They don’t need more obligations. They don’t need more rules.  They don’t need to figure out how to make it in this world.  They need to know how to make it out of this world to the heaven God has paid for.  They need to know about the one who came to set them free from the pressing load of guilt.  They need to hear that the arrow points down from God who loved the whole world that he was willing to offer up his Son.  They need to hear about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, his forgiveness and salvation.

My friends, to help them you don’t need all sorts of skills.  You don’t need confidence from all sorts of personal successes.  You don’t need to have all sorts verses memorized.  You don’t need a job at a church.  Look what that did for the priest and Levite.  What you need is love.  You need selfless, Good Samaritan kind of love that cares for people no matter what.  And it just so happens that the kind of love we need is exactly what Jesus did for us and is exactly what Jesus put into our hearts and lives with his gospel message.  When you have love like that, good news is easy to share.  God grant it.  Amen.

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.

GIVE GOD’S GOOD NEWS

Week 12 – 8.27.17

LL pic 2

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.

 

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.